About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Friday, July 14, 2006
Weekend Herb Blogging #41
I'm really going to invite Ed from Tomato around for a game of cards.

Over at Kalyn's Kitchen she has posted a few rules about weekend herb blogging. There was Ed in comments asking if he could post about mushrooms. Ed, you have to play your cards closer to your chest than that! Right at the top of my site it says that mushrooming is one of my hobbies.

So without further ado, my entry to WBH #41 is a post on morel mushrooms.

Over twenty years ago, I was knocking around with a couple of Swiss blokes. One of them had some friends that owned a country pub up in the gold country. One day, one of the owners was out walking the dog in the forest, when all of a sudden she was overcome with shock. Right there in front of her was a group of morel mushrooms. Not many people at that time knew they grew in Australia, so she happily picked them.

Unlike overseas, there seems to be only one type of morel that grows here, Morchella elata, the black one. In Europe, Asia and North America it's possible to find as well, Morchella esculenta and Morchella vulgaris. Unlike its European counterpart, our morels don't have that deep mushroom aroma when you smell them, but what it lacks olfactory wise it more than makes up for when you cook it. It's like if a field mushroom is a single musical instrument, the morel is the whole symphony orchestra. The taste is so refined and deep that it's considered one of the holy trinity of mushrooms, along with truffles and porcinis. With a price to match. Last time I looked, dry morels were selling for $750 a kilo ($375 lb), however for that money you do get an awful lot of mushrooms, for morels are hollow. Overseas, morels are a lot more affordable as there is a greater supply. They can even be bought on eBay.

Morels belong to the ascomycete group of fungi, one of the most important groups to man. From this group are all the yeasts and the fungi responsible for penicillin and most of our other antibiotics. Without the yeasts there would be no bread as we know it, nor would there be any alcohol either. All ascomycetes produce asci at some stage in their life cycle. This is rather like a pea pod and the spores lie inside until they are expelled. Morel's asci are in rib like structures on the outside rather than in gills underneath. These spore are then shot out to disperse.

You need to be careful if you know where to pick them, as they can be confused with a poisonous mushroom known as Gyromitra esculenta, or brain fungus, though it's not too difficult to distinguish between them, and I should point out that in Eastern Europe the Gyromitra esculenta is eaten after repeated boiling and discarding of the cooking water. Not that I'm advising you gentle reader to do this, I kind of like your company. But I must point out you should never eat raw morels either, they must be cooked.

I believe that morels and truffles are similar, in that they both seem to pass on their flavour to other foods, rather than cooking and eating them as themselves. Some people who have eaten a bunch of morels by themselves have reported they didn't see what all the fuss was about. For me, I love to drop them into stews or goulash, but far and away the best use for them is to make a morel sauce.

Morel Sauce

As many dry morels as you can afford, say 50 g (2oz) *
3 shallots, finely chopped
50 g (2 oz) butter
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac
1 l (2 p) homemade chicken stock
200 ml (7 fl oz) double cream
salt & pepper

Soak the dried morels in boiling water for twenty minutes. Melt the butter in a frypan and sweat the shallots until almost golden, add the morels (save the soak water) and continue to fry until all moisture is gone, add garlic and cook two minutes more. Raise the heat, pour in the brandy or cognac, stand back and don't worry if it ignites. Reduce until the brandy has gone, add the chicken stock, morel soaking water and cream and leave to simmer until a sauce consistency is reached. Season and serve with any roast meat.

*It isn't strictly necessary to use this amount, though the result is extremely good. Half a dozen dried morels mixed with ordinary field mushrooms that you get from the supermarket, will give a great sauce too. Simply chop or slice the field mushrooms, say about 100 g (4 oz), and fry them at the same time as the morels.
  posted at 1:25 pm

At 11:36 pm, Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

I"d love to come to dinner with you and Ed. Can you invite me also when you invite him? (Of course, there's the travel time.)

Love the sound of this sauce. When I was in San Francisco last weekend I visited a wonderful shop in the Ferry Building that sells nothing but mushrooms. I see dry morels here once in a while, but they are seriously expensive.

At 11:28 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi kalyn, your place is set, come any time you like.

You're right about the expense, so I have edited the entry to make it more affordable. Of course lucky me who picks his own doesn't have to consider the cost, though I do purchase a license every year to pick them. I couldn't stand it if a ranger confiscated my bounty.

At 12:39 am, Blogger pentacular said...

Neil, at last I can use your real name, the real Neil is the real deal, hehe. I can tell everyone out there in blog land that I have had the opportunity to sup on this sauce, and I have never gotten over it. You haven't tried mushrooms until you try this. The cream, the brandy, the morel infusion of flavour was breathtaking. I can still actually remember the taste, and its been about 6 years. Well done Neil.

At 6:58 pm, Blogger neil said...

Yep, that's me. I'm glad that you really liked it and I'll try and make sure it's not another six years before you have some again!

At 12:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love morel mushrooms and always keep a big bag of dried ones in my pantry. If I'm lucky, I get the fresh ones occasionally. Very nice post and I will make the sauce.

At 7:40 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused by some of the quantities in this sauce recipe.
Is that 1l cicken broth? As in One Liter?
What does (2p) mean?
How much sauce does this recipe make?
Also the amount of water used to soak the morels isn't specified.
It says boiling water. Does that mean you allow the morels to boil or do you take boiling water off the heat and soak 'em in that?
It sounds delicious but I'm pretty useless if things aren't speed out for me.

At 7:59 am, Blogger neil said...

Yep, that's one liter of chicken stock, 2 p is two pints, which is the equivalent amount for those who don't use metrics. I used to wonder the exact same thing about the boiling water - it means to put boiling water on the morels and leave them to soak, no more boiling required. You should end up with about half a liter of finished sauce, depending on how much you reduce it to reach the sauce like thickness you prefer. Let me know how you go.


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