Out of all the edible mushroom varieties in the world, none are more sought after than the humble morel mushroom. Prized for its delicate earthy flavors, chefs and food connoisseurs offer significant monetary rewards for samples, paying pretty pennies to those willing to spend the time to find them. Learning how to clean morel mushrooms is a top priority for those who find them.
Morel mushrooms only grow for a few weeks a year and that means their supply is quite low. There are never enough to fill demand, leaving many keen to taste the delicious morel with any they locate. Finding them is also a challenge because of the amount of people who forage for them.
If you do happen to find some while out mushroom hunting, make sure you know how to properly identify the mushroom. They have a very close cousin called the false morel and they can be quite toxic if eaten. There’s an article HERE if you’d like to understand the key differences between the two.
Correctly Identify Your Morels
If you are lucky enough to find them, make sure you first properly identify the morel. The similarities between it and the false morel are quite significant. While one is a true chef’s delight, the other is a toxic impostor. You’ll need to decipher which is which as soon as you can.
A true morel will have ridges and valleys, eerily similar to honeycomb. While different varieties of morels might have distinct differences in color, their general shape is the same. The cap is also nice and erect, standing tall, anywhere from a couple of inches to almost a foot high.
Apart from the height and overall appearance of the cap, there’s one simple way to tell the difference. The cap’s interior is hollow in a true morel, while solid in a false one. The hollow cap is a simple way to properly identify the mushroom.
False morels tend to look tired, not standing as tall as true morels. They also look more like a dropped brain. The distinct ridges and grooves you find on a true morel appear very different to the ridges that look wavy and not uniform. It just appears like a messy relative instead of the real thing.
Why to Clean Your Morel Mushrooms
There are a couple of very good reasons why you should clean the morel before you use them. While store-bought mushrooms often look clean and healthy, they grow in controlled conditions, often raised on sawdust so dirt never touches them.
Morel mushrooms, on the other hand, grow out in the wild. Dedicated mushroom hunters spend days or even weeks foraging for them. Because morel mushroom season sometimes only lasts for a few weeks, the competition can be quite fierce to find them.
The point is, mushrooms found in the wild grow in dirt and often harbor insects if their shape allows for it. Morel mushrooms are hollow, which makes for a perfect hideaway. Their caps have ridges and valleys and it’s those very valleys that hold dirt a little too easily.
Cleaning them is a major priority, given that I’m not particularly fond of dirt in my mouth. The grit crunching between my teeth is something I cringe at. So, what is the best way to clean morel mushrooms?
How Do You Clean Morel Mushrooms?
There are a number of things to consider when deciding on how to clean morel mushrooms. Because of their delicate flavor, people often shy away from using water in any way when cleaning them. This is one thing that will come down to personal choice and something for you to consider.
Another thing you’ll want to think about is how you want to eventually present the mushroom when you do finally cook it. Are you cleaning the morel to prepare it for storage, are you going to freeze it or are you like me, unable to wait a moment longer and ready to eat it the second it’s ready?
Whichever way you decide, consider the following tips when prepping your morel mushrooms. They might make the difference between a heavenly dish and a terrible dirt feast. The last thing I want is for you to not enjoy the morel to its complete appeal.
Tip #1: Give it a Shake
Most of the dirt that a morel holds, is contained in the numerous valleys that dot its cap. If you found your mushroom or mushrooms on a particularly sunny day, you might find that the dirt is already mostly dry, making the shaking process a lot more effective.
If you picked your morels during a cold and wet day, you might find the dirt to be steadfast, clinging to the cap no matter how much you shake it.
Tip #2: Use Damp Paper Towel
Soak some paper towel and wring out the excess water. If you have the patience, thoroughly pat the morel from top to bottom, gently inserting the towel into each individual nook. I know the process is quite laborious and not for those of the more impatient among us, but the end results will be well worth it. You could also use a soft-bristled brush to help.
Tip #3: Rinse if You Must
While some places suggest leaving morels submerged in a bowl of water in the refrigerator overnight, I strongly disagree. Not only are morels like sponges, but you’ll also lose a significant amount of flavor during the soaking. If you feel you need to use water, rinse the mushroom under cold water and then pat it dry with paper towel.
Tip #4: Don’t be Afraid to Use a Knife
Morel caps are hollow and whenever I get one, never hesitate to get a knife and slice the cap in half. I don’t fancy sharing my meal with any wayward insects, so always ensure there are none lurking inside my next meal.
Tip #5: Don’t Clean Too Early
The thing about morels is that if you store them in a paper bag before cleaning them, they will keep for a few days. But once you expose them to water, they tend to absorb it and then quickly deteriorate in quality. That’s why I suggest only cleaning your morels once you are ready to use them.
Regardless of how you choose to clean your morels, do it in a way that ensures you enjoy the end results. They are a true delicacy and worth every loving moment you spend preparing them.