Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Simply Morels

Last Sunday, prompted by rave reviews from Houndstooth Gourmet, I dragged my parents to the Dupont Farmer’s market. The Dupont neighborhood, from the driver’s perspective, is the level of hell that Dante forgot. Badly-timed lights, one ways, roads vanishing mysteriously underground at a moment’s notice, and none of it on a good, Midwestern grid. On Sundays, the fun gets ratched up a notch thanks to the market.

The Market itself was impressive: about 15 stands, with lots of cheese, eggs, and meat options (chicken? lamb? buffalo?). Sadly, the produce was not: greens, chard, and some apples and squashes left over from last season. I don't want AUTUMN, I want SPRING. I want asparagus and peas. I feel cruelly deceived; I had been told that April would bring such bounty. Nope. Regardless of what all my national food magazines have been claiming for over a month now, winter's going to last just a little bit longer. boo.

But! There was a true discovery. A mushroom stand! Two little ladies, whom I couldn't picture bending over hunting mushrooms for the life of me, were selling an impressive variety of mushrooms, most of which I didn't recognize. And right up in front was one little box of morels, selling for over a dollar a mushroom.

I had never seen a Morel in real life. I thought they only existing in far away places like Michael Pollan books or California.

I walked away. The little box was going for twenty dollars.

I walked back. I watched them like a predator as other folks began to crowd the stand. I hoped that I was exuding a domineering, possesive vibe. My morels, Mine!

At this point, I realized that my Mom was doing the exact same thing. After a few tentatively enthusiastic words, neither one really wanting to take responsibility for the decision to shell out over a buck per mushroom, it was decided: Dad would buy the morels. And they would be ours. And it would be glorious.

Mushrooms are kind of mysterious that way. You know, the siren call of mushrooms. No one really knows how or why or when they grow. Often completely irrespective of human action. We don't command wild mushrooms to grace our table. They just do. And we are grateful.
And if there was ever one food product that will make you appreciate the spring, it's morels. Unlike Asparagus and Peas, we can't import them from Mexico and stock up your local Whole Foods with them.

Somewhere in late elementary school, I was convinced that all mushrooms were fatally poisonous. My penchant for extremism was activated when, upon discovering a fairy circle on the lawn one summer morning, I was warned by my parents not to touch just any old mushroom that I happened to find. That did it -- clearly mushrooms were the equivalent of edible goblins, they are out to get you, ready to jump out from behind every tree or supermarket bin and attack! Grown ups could clearly eat them since they were sold by seemingly respectable institutions...but then again, I theorized, grown ups did plenty of sketchy things that are fatal to kids (like smoke cigarettes or drink coffee). No Mushrooms. Bad. Evil. Poisonous.

I'm not sure exactly when I grew out of that stage. Mind you, I was also convinced that fresh cranberries and spiders were fatal upon contact. Life is pretty action-packed as a kid, all these things out to get you like aliens in a movie. I still know some people in their 20s who won't eat mushrooms, which now strikes me as an incredibly deprived existence. Still, my adult relationship with mushrooms is not exactly sophisticated: portabellos are good replacements for meat, truffles are exquisite but unfortunately have been labeled as such and therefore are overused by restaurants trying to prove their poshness, and any old mushroom makes a great addition to any carb dish if sauteed. Like I said, not exactly a connoisseur here.

Mom and I decided that these precious morels must be very delicately and very simply cooked, so that we could fully appreciate their uniqueness. Gourmet had a very simple salad course recipe; essentially, morels, butter, and cream. Luscious. The morels were *** essence of Morel*** meaty, succulent, indescribable. We ate veeeeeeeeery slooooooowly and savored every moment. I realized that I strongly associate Morels with very posh restaurants; a dish like that would have cost $20 a head at a restaurant. Easily. It was so worth it.
Funny thing though: during the cooking stage, the cream clarified, or something. Look at the photo of the morels in the saucepan, with all the bubbly cream. Now look at the plated morels. They are coated in cream, but the liquid is like a buttery oil. Truly decadent, amazing when sopped up with bread, but WTF?? I don't know enough about cooking Chemistry and my resident Chemist is still out of town at his conference. Any ideas?

In the end, this dish shown because of it's simplicity: 100% Morels and Dairy. Sinful.

We'd like to submit this post to Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Bee and Jai over at Jugalbandi. If you'd like to participate, read the rules for Weekend Herb Blogging, then send your entry to Bee and Jai by 3:00 on Sunday, Utah time.

Morels in Cream (from the Gourmet Cookbook).

3 Tbs unsalted butter
1 lb morels, trimmed, washed well, and patted dry
1 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream, heated until hot (maybe more)

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate high heat until foam subsides. Add morels and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 6-8 minutes. Sprinkle in flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add hot cream in a slow stream, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer gently, stirring once, until morels are tender, 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with or on bread (Gourmet recommends Brioche, we had French baguettes on hand).

Serves 4.


giz said...

So who would think that these ugly little things that look like miniature sponges could transform into a gastronomic heaven? It was worth the money just for the experience - after all we spend away (note I didn't use the word I wanted to) more money on things we'll never remember anyways.

Krysta said...

When in doubt have dad pay for it!

Kate said...

I'm laughing at "I thought they only existing in far away places like Michael Pollan books or California." because I'm in California and we do in fact of farmers markets that have the most beautiful/fascinating/rare/expensive mushrooms!

Katy said...

i just bought my first farmer's market mushrooms today! They were a little bit expensive ($20 per pound for shiitake!) but I never feel bad spending extra money at the farmer's market. Hopefully they will be great!

bee said...

these mushrooms are gorgeous and taste exquisite. thanks for your entry.

bee said...

please check your e-mail.

Kevin said...

I have never had a morel mushroom. I am going to have to look or some.

Lisa said...

Mushroom addict that I am, I've never had the opportunity to try morels. I can just imagine how enjoyable an experience it was.

On the subject of mushrooms, you still have a week to submit a mushrooms soup, salad or something in between to No Croutons Required. I'd love to see what you would come up with.

Kalyn said...

I've only had morels once and it WAS in California, so I laughed too. They sound heavenly, but no idea about the chemistry question.