Finding morel ground


With spring finally here, hunters everywhere will soon be out in their favorite spots searching for the ever-elusive morel mushroom. People all over will be light stepping throughout the countryside and gently brushing back debris in hopes of finding a patch of morels.

In my opinion, when cooked right the wild morel mushroom is one of the tastiest and delicate morsels of food that one could ever partake in. There are many varieties that are sought after. On the downside, there are many look-alikes that could leave one ill or dead.

Wild mushrooms can be found in plain sight or hidden by the overgrowth. Each type has its own unique flavor that some people love and others find not so appetizing.

In Illinois, the most sought after wild mushroom is the morel, and the demand is such a pound of morels can sell for up to $50. Some local markets may carry them for those who want morels but don’t like tromping through the woods to find them.

Besides the yellow, black and grey morels there are many other wild mushrooms that are edible and delicious such as puffballs, coral fungi, honey mushrooms and my personal favorite, the maitake, which is better known as the hen of the woods.

There are a couple of important early preparation steps readers are encouraged to follow when dealing with wild mushrooms. First, give the mushrooms a thorough rinse since most grow in dirt and some flourish in manure. The second step is to soak them in an ice bath with a good amount of salt to kill any hidden insects.

Everyone has their own way to cook mushrooms and this can result in a fair amount of disagreement and controversy. One person’s recipe may be absolutely delicious to many, but someone else may find it sacrilegious and a disgrace to the dainty fungi.

My favorite way of cooking depends on the variety of mushroom I have on hand and my mood at the time. Sometimes I just want a nice batch of morel mushrooms coated in egg, seasoned in flour and pan fried in butter. Just writing this has my mouth watering. Other times I love to switch it up a bit and turn morels into something that many do not expect, such as a nice wild mushroom gravy to top my beautifully grilled burger with Swiss cheese.

The other varieties of mushrooms may be spun into a vast amount of dishes, causing many diners to go back for more. One of my personal favorites, the hen of the woods, is very tasty and meaty. It is suitable for many different cooking methods. Some uses include a ramen-style soup with vegetables. Another option, and one of the most common, is seared hen of the woods.

It is a simple method that allows the wild fungi’s flavor to stand out and be enjoyed without having to fight with other flavor profiles.

Mushroom hunting can quickly send one to the emergency room or worse. Many of the edible mushrooms have twins that are not edible and may be deadly. I cannot overstate the caution that is needed when consuming wild mushrooms. If there isany doubt regarding identification, be safe and do not consume the fungi. Another option is to seek out an experienced mushroom hunter for help in making sure the fungi in the sack is not harmful.

Mushrooms are one of the most underestimated pieces of forage food in the area. Yes, they are tough to find sometimes, but when found, the effort is worth the time. One can add mushrooms to almost any dish to make it something special.

From adding some fried mushrooms to a cold cut sandwich to adding wild fungi to spaghetti sauce, they are there to spice up any dish.