What They Are: Perhaps the best description of the morel comes not from a celebrated chef but a preeminent poet: William Jay Smith in his 1969 nature poems series: "Not ringed but rare, not gilled but polyp-like, having sprung up overnight -- these mushrooms of the gods, resembling human organs uprooted, rooted only on the air." Unique among mushrooms, morels have a sweet, complex, nutty umami-packed flavor tucked into their conical, honeycomb-textured exterior.
Morels can be found and foraged in most regions in the U.S. except for desert areas. They like moist soil, warm temperatures and relying on dying trees as a food source. The normal season is April through June.
What To Do With Them: Choose firm, plump, springy morels with a fragrant, earthy aroma. Discard any that are moldy, dried out or overly soft. Store them in a paper bag in the fridge and wait to wash the morels until just before you are using them. Simply sauté them in butter with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, toss with pasta or stir into risottos. They also play well with eggs and other spring veggies like asparagus, garlic scapes, and peas.
What Some Chefs Are Doing With Them: 108 Brasserie in London is serving up a delicate spelt risotto, with white asparagus, wild garlic & morels. At Boston's Craigie On Main, Chef Tony Maws has house made rye casarecce, morels, sorrel, Vidalia and schmaltz, topped with an egg. Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria in NYC is also pairing the prized funghi with pasta: Fusilli, watercress pesto cinnamon cap mushrooms and morels lemon and anchovies powder. Prima Bistro in Langley, Washington has Alaska halibut, morels, fiddlehead ferns, parisian ham, and a halibut-shellfish veloute. June, a natural wine bar in Cobble Hill Brooklyn, has Dayboat Monkfish, morels, savoy spinach, miso butter, and miners lettuce. Common Lot Restaurant in Millburn NJ featured a spring-filled butter poached halibut with morels, peas, fave beans, pickled ramps and morel cream.