Fresh ramps and morel mushrooms. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Fresh ramps and the coolest edible to grow out of the ground, morel mushrooms.
Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

No surer sign of spring, this lovely photo above. And when wild edibles grow together they’re often great cooked together. Last week for one of the final shots for the new book I ordered fresh morels from a fabulous company in northern Michigan called Earthy Delights (thanks, Chip and Ed!). I love the food of Michigan—the stone fruit, the eau de vie made from their skin, the tart cherries, the mushrooms. Same as the Great Lakes territories of Ohio, which booms with ramps right now. We get so many wild ramps that Jonathon Sawyer, who turned 13 today, spiritually (good luck at the Beards, JS, kick those Chicago bastards’ asses!), used them as centerpieces that diners could take home when he chefed at Bar Cento before opening his Greenhouse Tavern.

What did Donna shoot for the new book? An omelet with creamy morel and ramp sauce. Kind of a no-brainer. So no-brainer, in fact, that I woke to find the wonderful chef and writer David Tanis also pairing ramps and eggs (no morels). Ramps are a bit harsh on the palate raw, but give them some heat and they’re an elegant flavor somewhere between garlic and leek. The Times shows them whole, but I find them tough and stringy this way. I thinly slice the whites and chiffonade or mince the tops.

Having an excess of morels, I asked my friend Lee if she wanted some (she was preparing a b-day dinner for my oldest pal, Lester). She said she loved morels but wouldn’t know what to do with them. Hence this post. Because they’re so good, and so easy.

Morels, the coolest food to raise out of the earth, “Gift of God” food that I can sometimes find in woods not far from my house (thanks, JD!), when the lilacs bloom, are one of those foods that are good just as they are. The less you do, the better.

But you do have to cook them. My mushroom guru, Connie Green, who forages in the mountainous woods of the Napa Valley, says they contain a poisonous compound (I love dangerous food!) “similar to rocket fuel,” in her words. It blows off quickly in the gentlest of heat (Connie doesn’t even sweep the aroma her way when cooking). But don’t ever add raw morels to salads or the like. (In the years since I wrote about her in The French Laundry Cookbook, Connie has opened an online store selling wild food, called The Wine Forest, and she’s published an excellent book called The Wild Table.)

So while you must cook morels, you don’t want to hammer them with heat as you do white button mushrooms. A little butter, a little shallot or sliced ramp, halved morels, a little cream just to reduce and coat, and that’s it. Put them in a small bowl and eat, just to enjoy the pleasure of the mushroom itself. If you want it to look dramatic, add another spring wonder, the fava bean. If you want more, put it on some scrambled eggs (this will be lunch for me and Donna today). For something hardier, I made a bechamel sauce, enriched with Emmantaler cheese for some pasta and topped it with abundant morels.

To make a creamy morel sauce:

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium heat, sauté some minced shallot or sliced ramp whites, add the morels, and cook just till heated through. Add about a quarter inch or half inch of cream to the pan, simmer and reduce it by half, adding salt and pepper to taste. Toss in minced ramp leaves if you have them. Serve as is and eat very slowly. Or spoon over an equal quantity of gently scrambled eggs. Very gently scrambled, as described in Ruhlman’s Twenty; almost no one scrambles eggs right these days.

And that’s it. Happy May Day to all!

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

 

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14 Wonderful responses to “How to Cook Morels”

  • Jesse Coleman

    Being from southern Ohio, my dad always used to go ‘mushroom hunting’ and bring back pillowcases full of morels. He’d toss them very lightly in flour and fry them in a little butter until golden brown. To this day they’re what I think of when I think of ‘good mushrooms’.

    • Jeff

      There is only one way to eat morels….roll in flour fry in butter….grandma is never wrong.

  • Austin Ruse

    I once saw a bag of dried morels for sale in Paris for nearly $100. My farm cousins pick them by the grocery bag. We used to cover them in flour, fry them in oil, and eat them lie popcorn.

  • Austin Ruse

    twenty years ago I saw them on the menu at 21. I asked them to prepare them like we used to on the farm. They did for the very reasonable price of $20.

  • Mantonat

    I had never heard the word “morel” until I was at least 16. To me, they were always “smoirzhi,” the Ukrainian word my grandmother used. They were easy to come by on her farm in central Manitoba. Her children (my mom and 3 uncles) all discovered their own secret hunting grounds in the places they moved to – British Columbia, Alberta, and Colorado. My mom has only found a few here and there though (in Colorado), but has learned about other spring mushrooms to help fill the void. I think my grandmother used a little sour cream and dill when making a sauce for her morels.

  • EightPondFarm

    We hunt them here in Missouri, too. Just about the best mushroom. They are late this year for us thanks to the odd weather. They are great by themselves (here, people use crushed crackers for a coating) and just as good with eggs or pasta. And more. Last night’s dinner: roasted beets, sliced, covered with lightly sautéed morels, a crumbling of feta cheese and a little balsamic vinaigrette.

  • Brad

    when cleaning fresh morels, do recommend soaking in salt water or soaking them in plane water or a light washing and air dry? Some say the salt bath takes away the earthy taste

    • ruhlman

      I try to brush or blow dirt off them. i don’t wash them. i cut in half and if I see bugs, then I wash!

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