Morels have always grown wherever there is calcareous and acid soil, not only in woods, but also in parks, gardens, construction sites, and landfills, etc. Upturned and disturbed land suits them very well: in 1945 in France, following the bombings and the landings, the beaches of Normandy were overflowing with them.
Their name probably comes from the word "Moor", because of their brown color.
We know that the Romans were very fond of them. Nero apparently called them the ‘Food of the Gods’ after he succeeded Emperor Claudius, who had been poisoned by morels (or a different poisonous mushroom...), and then later declared to be God.
Danton, when he was not occupied by the Revolution, used to pick them by the edge of the woods.
The Cuisinier françois by La Varenne (published in 1654) gives a dessert recipe using morels for Lent and three for Good Friday: "Morilles à la cresme", "Morilles en ragoust" and "Morilles farcies". Carême, and later Escoffier (two early French chefs), also appreciated them.
Fresh morels should be soft and velvety to the touch, and very dry, or they will not keep well. Morels with a sticky texture are to be avoided.
The cap should be firm, with intact cells, and without any sign of a white film (which is the beginning of mold). There should be no spots on the stems, which should have a precise cut and not be broken.
It is also important to verify the origin of morels. French morels are rare. Most come from countries in Eastern Europe, Turkey and Canada. The labeling must state their origin.
Fresh morels: when in season
Dried morels: all year round
Turkish dried morels are made in the traditional way: cleaned, trimmed, graded, threaded with string, and hung out to dry. In Canada, morels are dried in kilns at a low temperature. In China and Pakistan, they are dried and smoked over a wood fire, which masks their flavor. They can be purchased all year round.
Frozen morels: all year round
They are frozen in the same place they are produced, mainly Turkey and Canada, usually with their stems removed.
Powdered morels are sold in a tin, like a spice.
Fresh morels require meticulous cleaning. First, the earthy stem must be removed. Next, the morels can be dipped once or twice in a basin of vinegared water, and then given a final rinse under the tap, one morel at a time. However, as they can soak up a lot of water, it is better to clean each cell individually with a small brush.
Dried morels must be thoroughly rinsed before being rehydrated.
Fresh morels are good braised in butter. They make a perfect accompaniment to meat or fish or cooked with cream, or used as an ingredient in a soup, pasta dish, or risotto.
Once rehydrated, dried morels can be used in the same way as the fresh ones, but have a stronger flavor. They can also be used to season casseroles and slow-cooked dishes, without being a garnish.
Frozen morels must be cooked over a high heat to prevent them from shrinking too much.
PPowdered morels can be used to season pasta and stuffings.
Fresh morels should be cooked quickly, preferably as soon as you get them home.
They should be stored in a cool place, spread in a single layer on a plate without touching each other to allow them to breathe, and covered with a dry cloth. They must be kept away from any product with a strong smell so as not to spoil their delicate flavor.
Like all mushrooms, morels provide a lot of protein and fiber and contain no fat, but are low in vitamins and minerals.
There are countless varieties of morel. The most common are:
- Blonde/round morels
The cap can be rounded and resembles a sponge. It has a beautiful color ranging from gray to dark blonde, and is attached firmly to the stalk, which is short and cylindrical.
- Black/spike morels: in France they are also called morille pourpre, de Rielan, des jardins, costée and délicieuse.
The cap is longer, between 3–6 cm, and the color ranges from gray to beige-brown to brown-black. The stem is off-white.
- Common morel/morchella vulgaris
The cap can be of varying lengths and is sometimes conical. It is brown to blackish, with deep and irregular furrows. The stem is whitish and the flesh is slightly pink.
- False morels
False morels are 8–20 cm tall, have a small cap and a long stem. They are much less tasty than true morels.
Depending on where they are harvested, fresh morels are sold from March through late May.
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