When there’s a delicious ingredient that’s available only during the first warm weeks of spring, it’s a good bet that chefs—and their diners—will find ways to celebrate its arrival in grand style. The end of April marks the beginning of morel mushroom season in the warmer regions of the country. That’s when they begin appearing on menus in Appalachia before moving northward in the early summer months. The honeycomb-capped mushrooms are usually available for just a couple weeks each spring. “It’s like the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine in the autumn—a chance to enjoy nature’s bounty at a specific time,” says mushroom field guide author Teresa Marrone.
“Morels are not only delicious to eat and simple to cook with, but they are very easy to identify, so they’re considered a safe mushroom choice for foragers,” she says. “It’s their rareness that makes them precious.” Morels come in a number of colors, and can darken in color as the season lengthens. “The black morels have more flavor than the white, but the golden ones are my favorite.”
Time to celebrate
The Mountain Mushroom Festival, the country’s largest morel festival, will celebrate its 27th annual event in Appalachia from April 29 to 30 this year. Other morel-themed events are held in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. There’s even a Morel Mushroom Hunting Club located in Georgia, which provides national “progression maps” each spring, highlighting the mushrooms’ spread across the country.
Cooking with morels
Morels pair well with fresh herbs like chives, tarragon and parsley. Maronne says the subtle, nutty flavor of the mushrooms makes them a good pairing choice for pheasant or chicken. “Cream sauce is a traditional accompaniment, but many southern cooks deep fry them in light breading.” Other chefs dehydrate the mushrooms and make a morel powder to use in sauces or to paint the plate. “I love that treatment, because it allows the mushroom flavor to shine through,” she says, noting The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman, who has created delicious dishes with morel mushroom powder, an indigenous North American ingredient.
Serious Eats’ guide to cleaning and cooking with morels
Substitute morel mushrooms in the following recipes:
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