This time last year
, morel mushrooms
were not only taking over the forest floors, they were taking over my kitchen, filling in every last square inch of counter space. As the rain kept up a steady deluge throughout all of May and June, they cheered me up with their honeycombed coneheads and their woodsy aroma.
A lone morel in a sea of fresh grass. That's how the season rolled for me.
Some of last year's yellow morels.
This year I barely got out hunting at all. I blame it on the weather. I blame it on knee surgery, which kept me hobbled during the peak hunting weeks. I blame it on soccer (if you are a soccer mom, you'll understand).
A full day of foraging, and just enough morels for one spectaular dish.
I did manage to forage enough morels for one great dish. Just one. My precious, humble bowl of morels needed one memorable, decadent, earthy and heartwarming dish to both usher in and usher out the season.
I reached for the heavy cream. Some Yukon gold potatoes. A handful of tarragon from my fledgling spring herb garden. Young tender garlic and an onion which I slowly braised until it turned the color of toffee.
Morel Potato Gratin with Tarragon Garlic Cream was born: A creamy potato gratin is the perfect match for the decidedly fall-like nip in the air, and the death-to-seedlings frosty weather we've been having.
We couldn't get enough of the Morel Potato Gratin, so I kept making it with my stash of dried morels from last spring.
If your morel hunting was less than spectacular this spring, make this dish with the dried morels you no doubt have stashed away from last year. Dried mushrooms work just as well in this creamy potato gratin.
Morel Potato Gratin with Tarragon Garlic Cream, just out of the oven, and waiting to be sprinkled with fresh tarragon.
Any morel mushrooms harvest, no matter how small, is a cause for celebration. So gather your mushrooms and gently braise them in cream and garlic while caramelizing slivers of onion. Pour the creamy decadence over thinly sliced potatoes, dabble with tarragon leaves, and bake. Savor the aroma of the woods and the earth as you pull it from the oven. Feed your potato gratin to people you love, and eat very, very slowly.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
Morel Potato Gratin with Garlic Tarragon Cream
This dish should probably serve at least 6 people, but when serving morels spiked with cream, garlic and potatoes, your guess is as good as mine. No matter how many are coming to dinner, there will be no leftovers.
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup chicken broth, homemade if possible
- 1/2-1 cup fresh morels, cleaned and cut into halves or quarters, or 1 ounce dried morels
- 3 teaspoons minced garlic, from about 3 medium cloves
- 4-5 Yukon gold potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick (use a mandolin if you have one)
- 1 yellow onion, sliced very thin
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped, or fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375 ºF, and butter a 12 x 9 inch ovenproof baking dish. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the heavy cream and chicken broth to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Add the garlic and the morels. Simmer gently without the lid until the liquid has reduced by about 1/3, stirring occasionally so the garlic does not stick to the bottom of the pan, for about 30 minutes.
- Place the sliced potatoes in a large bowl, and set aside.
- To caramelize the onions: Warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Once the butter bubbles, add the onions and stir. Reduce the heat to low, and cook the onions, stirring occasionally until they start to brown, about 20 minutes. Add the sherry vinegar and cook a few more minutes, until deeply golden. Set aside.
- Pour the cooked cream over the potatoes and gently toss.
- Add the caramelized onions, tarragon, and the salt. Gently toss.
- Pour the potato mixture into the baking dish, season with a few turns of the pepper grinder, and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 50 minutes.
- Test for doneness by stabbing a potato slice with a knife; if still firm, bake another 5-10 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.
- Garnish with a sprinkle of tarragon or thyme before you bring it to the table. Eat hot, warm or cold.
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I found lots of mushrooms this spring that were not morels.
Morel mushroom hunting is a springtime obsession here in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The season conveniently begins after the last spring powder day, and before you can wear shorts without getting painful goosebumps.
Having just retired from my twenty year career as a physician, this morel season found me with an abundance of time on my hands. This was to be my year to bring home bags and bags of morels.
There are numerous morel mushroom hunting experts amongst us in Jackson Hole. I am certainly not one of them. I have been known to hunt morels for 6 hours straight with only a few smallish yellows to show for it. Friends of mine seem to find morels wherever they go. I see morelers with bags overflowing walking along the banks of the Snake River in my neighborhood. Are these mushroom hunters more experienced than me, more patient, or just lucky?
Described as nutty, meaty, buttery, even chocolatey, morels have a delicate flavor that is sublime. Make sure to cook your morels; don't eat them raw. Raw morels contain a toxin that will make you ill, although not seriously, and the effect is exacerbated if alcohol is also consumed. But by all means pair your cooked morels with the best hearty, full-flavored red wine you can get, such as a Cabernet Sauvingnon, a Bordeaux, or a Rhone.
When cooking up morels, it is best to keep it simple. Don't bog them down in sauces, or drown them in wine. Pan-Fried Morels are a simple, gutsy dish with a texture not unlike French Fries, and one of the easiest recipes you will ever make. Once the preparation is mastered, you can tuck your pan-fried morels into softly scrambled eggs, or top Creamy Polenta, or use them in my Risotto with Pancetta and Morels.
Did I find the motherlode of morels this spring? Not exactly. I had more luck cooking up these wild mushrooms than tracking them down. Luckily, I was able to benefit from the charity of friends, who happen to know exactly where to find these elusive mushrooms.
Chris braved hypothermic conditions to harvest these beautiful morels.
Pan-Fried Morels with Thyme
- fresh morels, a few cups
- extra virgin olive oil, 3-4 Tbsp.
- kosher salt or sea salt
- pat of butter
- leaves from 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- Gently wash your morels. Use a soft bristled brush, such as a toothbrush, to remove sand and grit. Tap them gently to coax out any small insects hiding within.
- Cut smaller morels in half, larger ones into quarters or eighths.
- Place a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Once nice and hot, add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot enough to bubble, add the morels.
- Stir fry until brown and a bit crispy, but don't overcook. You want them to be meaty and chewy too. Now add a pat of butter.
- Toss with kosher salt, or some other flavorful coarse salt. Add fresh thyme leaves.
- Serve atop polenta, scrambled eggs, bruschetta, or alongside a perfectly grilled steak.
Jack likes his Pan-Fried Morels with Thyme on top of crusty ciabatta bread, and drizzled with olive oil.
Risotto with Pancetta and MorelsThe salty crunch of the pancetta, the meaty tenderness of the morels, and the creamy al dente rice all add up to the perfect risotto. If you don't have morels, you can substitute one pound of mixed wild mushrooms, such as chanterelle, crimini, and portobellos.
- 8 paper thin slices of pancetta (or bacon or proscuitto)
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. fresh morels, halved if small, quartered if large, or 1 cup dried morels, reconstituted in cool water for 20 minutes, drained and patted dry. (Save the poaching water to add to your risotto).
- kosher salt
- 5 cups chicken broth, homemade if possible
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 cup fresh or frozen baby peas
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
- freshly ground pepper
- fresh thyme leaves, for garnish
- Preheat the broiler. Place the pancetta slices on a baking sheet in a single layer, and broil for 1-2 minutes. You want them crispy but not burnt. Drain on paper towels. Crumble. Hide from those who wander through the kitchen and can't resist snacking on them.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken broth and keep it at a low simmer.
- Prepare your morels as described above in Pan-Fried Morels with Thyme, but go easy on the salt because the pancetta is also very salty. Set aside. (Hide these with the pancetta crumbles.)
- In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil, then add the garlic and shallot over medium heat. Once they are softened but not yet brown, add the Arborio rice. Stir the rice to coat the grains for 1-2 minutes.
- Increase the heat, and add the chicken broth to the risotto 1 cup at a time. Keep stirring until all the liquid has been absorbed, then add more broth. Cook until the risotto has a creamy oatmeal-like consistency and the rice is al dente.
- Add the peas and stir to heat through.
- Stir in the thyme, the heavy cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan.
- Top with Pan-Fried Morels with Thyme and the Pancetta crumbles. Gently stir and serve with more Parmesan at the table.