FYI, this is a super-simple dish that is a perfect way to get the most out a handful of morels. All it takes is morels sautéed in butter (with a little salt), toast points, and Leelanau Cheese’s light & delicious fromage blanc.
One of the biggest predictors for success in hunting the morel mushroom is knowing likely spots to find them. Old fruit orchards (particularly apple) are incredible and there’s a ton of these in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Large burn sites in forested areas are another great location, especially in burned areas where jack, white or red pine once grew. The Michigan DNR has put together a map of large burn areas that occurred within the past couple years. Check it and more resources out on their Michigan Morel Mushroom Hunting page!
Here’s a feature from several years back by Cherie Spaulding that will help you get ready for the season. May is typically morel season in Leelanau, and sometimes late April.
It’s springtime once again in Northern Michigan, and not only have daffodils broken through, confirmations of morel mushrooms are arriving daily. For a few short weeks, folks flock to the woods in search of this elusive, edible mushroom.
Morel mushroom taste delicious, this is no secret, but the season itself is a sort of cultural absurdity. The “hunters” protect the whereabouts of their source as if it were the location of the Holy Grail. If you have ever wondered who your true friends are or just how well you have transferred your status from “down-stater” to “local” you find out pretty quickly during morel season.
Unfortunately, the toughest part about morel season is not deciding how to prepare this earthy delicious fungi; nor is the greatest challenge identifying them from other common mushrooms. The most difficult part of morel hunting is locating and claiming your own special spot, relatively secure from open-mouthed paper sacks and the hungry claws of hunters. Once you find one and finally sink your teeth in, you won’t regret a single moment spent in pursuit of this earthly goodness–morels are divine!
As eager as you may be to fry up a fresh pick, consider a few pointers from avid hunters in our region:
1. KNOW YOUR SHROOMS. Learn to identify the “true morel” before you head in to the woods, or at least make certain you have the real deal before you serve them for dinner. Click for an in-depth article on true & false morels with videos and pictures!
2. PROPER COLLECTING RECEPTACLE. Avid hunters insist on using a potato or orange bag–something netted, with holes–for collecting. A paper bag is fashionable, too, but purist prefer that pickers leave a trail of spores falling through the holes in the bag. (I recently read that the mushrooms begin to decompose almost immediately if they cannot “breathe,” so collecting them in a plastic bag is poor practice, but would suffice in pinch.)
3. LEARN THE LOCATIONS. An oak forest will probably never produce a morel, so say the experts; be sure to look for ash, maple, elm, poplar, and apple trees, commonly referred to as “host trees.” Morels may be found in surprisingly varied soil conditions, near sandy dune or swamp. Returning to the exact location year after year may or may not produce satisfying results. Generally a successful location one year will breed abundance the next, but one never knows. That is why they call this little bugger–elusive–one just never knows exactly where to look.
4. GET PERSONAL. One of the most successful hunters I know spends a significant amount of time on bent knee. Once you discover one morel, there are bound to be others, so staying calm and surveying the surroundings often proves the most productive tactic. When a morel is spotted, hunt around, but tread lightly. Many morel have been overlooked, or worse yet–squashed–in hasty anticipation of potential finds.
5. LEAVE A TRACE. Besides stealing someone’s favorite spot, the greatest mushrooming faux pas one can commit is to pick the mushroom–root and all–from the ground. Instead of this method, break the mushrooms stem and leave the remaining stem and root in the ground. The idea, I think, is to leave a few spores for the next year, but other hunters gauge the abundance of the area by what remains, and there is still a strange satisfaction in knowing that you missed them by only a moment or two. (Do not leave garbage in the woods, however.)
6. BE SAFE! This applies to ALL aspects of the hunt: searching, finding, identifying and eating. Use a compass in the woods if you have no sense of direction (or even if you do.) Take friends or tell someone your plans. Have a snack and water handy, and a jacket never hurt.
7. BE CONSIDERATE.
8. HAVE FUN! Most important facet of all.
Salmon Fillets With Morel Mushrooms
3 Tbsp. butter
5 shallots, minced
18 ounces morels, trimmed, cleaned and sliced
3/4 cup bottled clam juice
3/4 cup dry white wine
3 Tbsp. whipped cream
2 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp. dried
6 8-ounce salmon fillets
fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add Morels; sauté until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add clam juice and wine; boil until liquids have almost evaporated, about 20 minutes.
Add cream to mushrooms; boil until thickened, about 1 minute. Mix in chopped tarragon. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat broiler. Arrange salmon skin side down on broiler pan. Brush with lemon juice, then butter. Broil until just cooked through, without turning, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Transfer to plates. Spoon Morels over.
When you’re out looking for morels, this is one True or False question you want to get right! The False Morel page at The Great Morel exlains:
The “False Morel” has several species which carry scientific names such as Gyromitra esculenta, Verpa, Hellvella, and Disciotis. The Verpa and gyromitrin species are the most often mis-identified variety. The gyroomitrin is oten referred to as the “red mushroom”, the “beefsteak mushroom” or the “lorchel”. There are several true species of the false morel, and while some will say they can prepare and eat the false morel with no problem, others have a drastically opposite reaction to them. Hence, The Great Morel suggests that you do not attempt to digest this particular mushroom.
Research shows this species of the morel family is said to contain a toxic chemical called Gyromitrin, a toxic and possible carcinogenic chemical.
…The texture or makeup of the cap or head can typically have brain-like features, with folds in the caps, which some might describe as wrinkles, and are often brittle to the touch. The color will appear reddish or a brownish red, and will darken to almost a blackish red as the false morel ages. You can see some of this darkening beginning to take place on the image below. Sizes can vary from 2 inches to 10 inches.
One of the easiest ways of determining the false morel is by slicing it long ways. See the image below of a crosscut sectioning and note the meaty texture of the stem. False morels are not hollow, which is the most definite tip that you have stumbled up one of these ugly bad boys. The false morel shown in this image is also quite heavy as it is almost solid in the stem and meaty, and often referred to as “cottony”. Some expert mycologists go into greater detail in defining the relationship of the cap and the stem.