29th Apr 2012

And the Morel of the story is…

Hunting Morels on Gower with The Marmalade Cookery School and Gower Mushrooms.

Photography by Jon Lewin

The morel mushroom (Morchella esculenta) is one of the tastiest mushrooms around and next to the elusive truffle is the second most expensive in weight.

Morels are considered to be among the most prized edible wild mushrooms in the world, and I can see why. These distinctive mushrooms appear in early spring in the UK. Although not in abundance, and not for very long hence their rarity and price.

The morel has a meaty-like taste and is extremely rich and creamy in flavour. It is prized by gourmet cooks throughout the world and can be found on many a Michelin starred restaurants’ menu.

The morel is one of the easiest of the wild mushrooms to identify although there is one other mushroom that it can be mistaken for, the false morel (Gyromitra esculenta). From the outside, they appear to be almost identical but once you take a closer look and cut them in half, you soon know what’s what. The edible morel has a hollow cavern inside and is usually home to a few small insects, whereas the false morel is usually full of cotton like fibres and the cap is wrinkled rather than pitted as the true morels are.

Like most wild mushrooms, morels grow best where soil is warm and moist but not over-saturated, so a spot with good drainage is essential. In my experience, woodland close to a beach with slightly sandy soil is a good place to start searching. When picking, make sure to cut the mushroom at the base rather than pulling as this will uplift the root and prevent it from sprouting again next year. If you find yourself in the lucky predicament of just stumbling across these delicious mushrooms and you don’t have a knife, they can also be pinched at the base to avoid pulling at the root.

Once you’ve managed to find these elusive little buggers there are a few things you can do with them. Normally, they get eaten that day as the taste of a fresh morel really can’t be beaten, but if you find yourself with more than you can eat there is a few options.

As I mentioned earlier, morels are the second most expensive of all the wild mushrooms, so get yourself down to your nearest top quality restaurant and have a word with the chef, I’m confident that you will receive a handsome price for your efforts.

Although best used fresh, morels can also be preserved in many ways. Drying them is probably the best way of preserving the mushrooms, and this can be done in a few different ways; using a food dehydrator, in the air using a fan, in the oven and even in the sun. Although the oven method is used by many, I don’t think its the best way to go as it is quite easy to cook them rather than dry them and they tend to become rubbery and they don’t rehydrate properly when you come to use them.

Once dried, you will need to store your morels. In my opinion they are best stored in air-tight jars but can also be kept in paper bags.

As with most wild mushrooms, morels must be cooked before eating. As a general guideline, they need to be cooked for around 10-12mins if kept whole or 4mins on each side if you halve them. When found in sandy areas, they must be soaked and washed thoroughly. The more you wash them, the less chance there is of ending up with a mouth full of grit.

As well as being extremely tasty, the morel has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to treat indigestion and many other respiratory conditions.

Here’s a few shots from the latest mushroom adventures…