In the spring of 1996, a CIA instructor took us on a hunt for morel mushrooms. Why do you love these mushrooms, I asked him. “They’re just too cool,” he said  And they are.  Morels are what mushrooms are all about. They’ve got that gnomish head, brain-like, peculiar, twisted. They’re wild, what forager Connie Green calls a gift-of-God mushroom, unpredictable. And kind of scary looking, dangerous (hopeful phallus, menacingly wrinkled cap).  And they taste so deeply mushroomy, of the earth they rise out of.  We spent all day in the Hudson Valley, and I didn’t find one. My friend Adam did, found two, gave them to me with a scowl, angry he didn’t find more. I cut them open; tiny bugs scurried everywhere inside.

When my friend JD Sullivan said “Want to go look for morels? My dad’s plumber told me where they are. My sister found a bucketfull over the weekend.” I said sure.

I can’t say I expected buckets, but it was a thrill to find my first (above, my photo, Donna’s shot of the handful I found below) and then a second and then a cluster of three. They grow out of nowhere, and for no apparent reason. It’s a wonder these incredibly fragile fungi are able to push through the matted leaves and mast at all.  But they do.

It was a cold wet spring. I was told via twitter that morels like just so much moisture and warmth. JD said we need to go looking as soon we smell the lilacs next year, when it’s drier and warmer. I’m glad now to know where to look.

I cleaned the above off and sauteed then with an eensy bit of shallot in butter, and Donna and I ate them as is, just to savor their flavor.  You have to cook morels to neutralize their toxin (I’ve read); don’t eat them raw. They taste best cooked gently in a little dairy fat. They go with any mild meat—veal is a classic, fish, chicken.

And if you can’t wait till next spring, they dry beautifully and can be ordered from Earthly Delights. The following sauce is designed to highlight the morel, but it works with all mushrooms; wild are best, but if you want to use button mushrooms, sear them hard first, give them some color then add them to the cream (see this post on how to cook mushrooms).

Morel Mushroom Cream Sauce

  • 1 medium shallot minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • a handful of fresh morels or 1 package Earthly Delights dried morels, reconstituted in warm water for 30 minutes
  • 6-8 ounces cream
  • squeeze of lemon
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Sweat the shallots in the butter in a small sauce pan, giving them a three-finger pinch of salt.
  2. Add the wine and reduce by two-thirds.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, and simmer over medium low heat for five more minutes.  Taste and ask yourself if it needs more salt, pepper or lemon juice and adjust accordingly.
  4. Serve with any meat, fish. pasta, or eggs.

Serves two to four.

If you liked this post on Morels, check out these other links:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved




34 Wonderful responses to “The Amazing Morel”

  • rockandroller

    Well, welcome to mushroom hunting, which my family has done for generations! This year was pretty lousy because of all the rain, but I couldn’t really get out there too far to look, just in my local woods. Central OH, where I grew up, the season starts much earlier than up here in Cleveland where it’s closer to mother’s day, give or take a week. My grandmother always said when you could see the May Apples start to pop up, it’s time to start looking, though you might not see them for 2-3 weeks after that depending on the spring climate. By the time the may apples start to wither, the season is over.

    You often have to cut in half and them and soak them to get ALL the bugs out, though a little extra bug protein won’t hurt you 🙂

  • KristineB

    I just threw a bunch of morels in the trash! I now work in Ann Arbor and a co-worker, after much inquiring in the office about where to find some, brought in a bag, probably a dozen or so, of morels her husband had found in their yard. However, he put them in a ziploc bag and threw them in the fridge for not sure how long. By the time I got them, they were really wet and a bit mushy. I then forgot them as I left the office for a funeral, which made it a very long weekend. By now they were complete mush. Heartbreaking.

    • Jason Sandeman

      Unless Micheal has already edited his post, I am not seeing what you are talking about here. Besides – is this English class, or a cooking blog? Lighten up, man!

      • Christine Wolfe

        While I agree that Andrew’s exclamation point was a bit over the top Ruhlman IS a writer. He cares. I care. Thanks for always wanting to hone your writing/editing/grammer skills, MR, and for taking constructive criticism well.

  • Victoria

    I just got a book about mushrooms and plan on foraging for them upstate. I knew someone who had a delightful little Italian knife with a brush on the end of it for mushroom hunting.

  • Michelle

    This brings back memories of my dad taking us every Spring to hunt for morels. It was a swampy adventure in the Pacific Northwest. We always breaded and pan fried them with great success.

  • lisaiscooking

    I love morels! My Dad and uncle used to find them in early spring in Illinois. Some years, they would bring in bags of them, and other years, they’d only find a few. My Mom always cut them in half, lengthwise, and soaked them in salt water. Then, she drained and dried them, tossed them with flour, and fried them in butter. I miss them every spring!

  • rockandroller

    I should also like to mention to folks considering mushroom hunting that you DO have to know what you’re doing. Never pick something growing off of a log for example, or anything that’s toadstool like (smooth top, looks like a store-bought button type mushroom only usually bigger), and beware of false morels as they can make you really, really sick or could kill you if you are a kid or elderly or compromised immune system, etc. In fact, I think I read something about a certain prominent local chef going through this very thing not that long ago. Nothing to screw around with.

    • OeA

      There’s the saying, “There are old mushroom foragers and there are bold mushroom foragers, but there are no old, bold mushroom foragers.”

    • Charlotte

      Oyster mushrooms often grow on logs, as do Chicken of the woods. But you’re right — folks shouldn’t just go out with a hunch. I recommend David Arora’s classic: Mushrooms Demystified. Look for a mycology group at your local university, or if you really want a treat, head out to the Telluride Mushroom Festival.

      It’s a great hobby, one of my favorites (even if I do stick to morels, oyster mushrooms, porcini and chanterelles).

  • Jason Sandeman

    I love morels. I have never hunted for them, but I always have dried on hand. I find they make a good base for mushroom risotto, (I like to steep my morels in hot chicken stock like a tea,) and I will saute them with a little shallot butter and asparagus tips. Spring in the bowl!

  • Mantonat

    I had never heard the word morel until my lat teens, but grew up eating smoirzhi in cream sauce at my Ukrainian grandmother’s farm in Canada. I didn’t realize until later that I was eating such a rare and expensive treat. One of my uncles had a couple of favorite foraging sites and he would collect them by the kilo in the good years. Unfortunately his secret died with him. I can’t eat morels without thinking of the food that usually came with them: new potatoes with dill and butter, pan fried northern pike, pierogi with sour cream and onions in butter.

    • gooditsall

      Thanks for this. I wondered but never knew if that’s what they were. Our family also tramped around bug infested brush to pick mushrooms–in spring and fall. Don’t know what the fall mushrooms were either.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    I’ve been picking since I was a lad. Wild mushrooms are one of nature’s great gifts. This is especially true of the finest varieties … morels, hen-of-the-woods, various boletus, chanterelles. A risotto with a bit of shallot and some nice mushrooms is heaven. This is one of the very few instances where the wild thing is just so much better than the domesticated one.

  • rob fettig

    Swap that white wine out for some cognac and serve the cream sauce over some grilled elk steaks. Saute up some fresh garlic shoots and man I wish I still lived in Montana. I used to love Moreling in western Montana.

    • Charlotte

      It’s been a really crummy year for morels out here in MT. Too cold and wet and now the bottomlands are all flooding. My fingers are crossed for boletes though …

  • mpw280

    I have a friend who does quite a bit of morel hunting in central Illinois, he says to use a mesh bag so that the spores drop to the ground. I don’t know if it is true but he does round up quite a few when the season is on. mpw

  • Diane

    Wow, perfect timing! I just picked up a bag of morels at my local farmers market today and was just looking for a recipe for them. I am now planning to cook them with this one tomorrow. Thanks. I can’t wait.

  • cheap customized jerseys

    he put them in a ziploc bag and threw them in the fridge for not sure how long. By the time I got them, they were really wet and a bit mushy. I then forgot them as I left the office for a funeral, which made it a very long weekend. By now they were complete mush. Heartbreaking.

  • ChefJMMeinhardt

    Love morels. Here in GA, there are quite a few areas where they tend to grow in more abundance than anywhere else. A friend of mine, who is an accomplished outdoorsman, always hunts them out for me. I will cook a few off and then like you said, dry the rest for later use.

  • katie

    I have collected morels for 49 years. We only eat the black ones as my grandfather and others told us the white ones can make you ill. The “black Morels” stalk and cap are together so when it is sliced in half you do not see a stalk and a cap. Looks like the second one from the right may be a white one. Just be very careful as mushroom hunting can be very dangerous. I taught my husband how and where to hunt them and now he wants to eat more varieties than I know are is easy to get carried away. We cut the bottom off with a knife and use baskets with holes to spread the spores.
    Never bothered much with recipes..just butter and morels. Because we have found many pounds of them we learned to string them up and dry them for later use just use a needle and thread

  • Mommyk8

    We are just starting to get them up here in Maine. They are fantastic this year. Last night I made a Morel, Brie and caramelized onion flat bread. Highly recommend.

  • Jesse Coleman

    I love this post. Growing up in Dayton, morel season was always my favorite- my dad would bring them home by the pound, dust them in flour and fry them in clarified butter (still does). I didn’t eat mushrooms at the time (picky kid eater) but when I tasted one of those, I changed my tune. It was one of the first times I realized that food preferences are all in one’s head. Really changed the way I looked at food, opened up a world of possibilities.

  • Lyndsay ~ The Kitchen Witch

    Morels grow wild here. I have a very good friend who takes me mushroom picking who knows what she’s doing. Your sauce looks absolutely amazing. Bookmarking for the weekend!

  • Ted

    Another temporal/folk cue for finding them is “when the oak leaves are the size of mouse ears”..

    I’ve found them in West “By God” Virginia, Virginia & Wisconsin at that time (approximately)…

  • allen

    I took a mushroom class last fall and morel’s cause the most food poisoning of all wild mushrooms, mainly from not cooking long enough not from picking the wrong type. I like the matsutaki for flavor and the morel for texture, you can’t beat the shape for holding a sauce, and all of them hold there flavor when dehydrated.

  • BlacksmithJK

    A number of years ago I had some morels that I had bought at a local farmers market. I would have normally left them in a paper bag in the fridge as they will start to dry out nicely if I don’t get to them right away. This time, however, I had left them in the plastic bag they came in. By the time I was able to do something with them several days later they were mushy so I did not want to risk using them.
    I took the morels that had turned and threw them in a bucket of water and spread this mix around the yard in several places including near the stump of an old elm that had been cut down several years earlier.
    Much to my surprise two or three years later I drove into the driveway one May day and saw a mushroom, and then another and another. Yep, morels, nearly two pounds in all, most likely from the spores I scattered.
    Regrettably my landlady wanted to move into the house and began to use the whole front yard for parking. I snuck back next spring but there were no morels, only tire tracks.
    Conventional wisdom says to look for morels near downed, rotting elm trees.

  • melissa

    I had fresh morels for the first time ever this spring. I got them at the local market so they were probably not 100% at their peak. But they were still amazing. I am dying to go mushrooming.

  • michael Pardus

    I’m missing Morel season this year…maybe I can catch the September flush of Scruples before winter sets in,if not, I guess my social pantry will be bare. I’m kinda hoping that might happen.

  • Brian Bratton

    I had morel’s last summer at the Stockfarm in Montana…Chef Toby McCracken made a buffalo ribeye with morel cream sauce that was absolutely insane. Had it twice in 4 days. Can’t get them where we live here in Costa Rica and I want them!!! Gonna have to see how to work that out~

  • Deborah Dowd

    I have always wondered whether I might be able to grow morels since I have a wooded area with tons of natural compost at the back of my lot. Mushroom hunting sounds like a foodie’s treasure hunt!

  • Steve

    When is poor Adam going to get an adjective besides “angry”, reading this post, I could suggest “generous” which if he is THE adam from your CIA book is totally correct.


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