Rain and warm weather the past few days will trigger wild morel mushrooms to start popping out of the ground in our Missouri Ozarks forests and fields.
The tasty delights are free for the picking — if you know how to spot the unusual tan or white or even black fungus rising out of leaves and grass. Kevin Kiekbusch said he can’t wait for conditions to be just right to carry on a family tradition.
One of his earliest memories is traipsing over farmland with his father and brother, hunting for the wild mushrooms.
“I was completely mesmerized and could not believe these things were even from this planet, they looked different than anything I had ever seen before,” Kiekbusch said.
He learned more about morels during his college years and began hunting — and cooking them — in earnest.
“Like clockwork, in late March, I start having dreams of the morel mushroom,” he said.
What’s so good about morel mushrooms?
The morel flavor is sweeter and nuttier than store-bought mushrooms. Often described as “woodsy,” these mushrooms are prized by chefs for their robust, meaty flavor when cooked.
Ways to prepare morel mushrooms
Comparing the morel flavor to store-bought shiitake or white mushrooms is a no-brainer, according to Kiekbusch.
“That’s like asking how beef jerky compares to a wagyu ribeye,” he said. “They are simply in a different class. Store-bought mushrooms are just fine, but morels are Mother Nature’s most earthy, amazing gift to be treasured, in my humble opinion.”
Here are a few of his favorite ways to prepare and feast on wild morels.
His first experience was with morels rinsed clean and sauteed in olive oil with thin slices of garlic and seasoned with black pepper, then served on a Saltine cracker.
Another favorite: Fresh morels sliced and spread atop pizza, then baked until crisp. Kiekbusch said morels are ideal to slice thin and add to scrambled eggs during the cooking process, or folded into a cheese omelet.
Because they are hollow, morels cut lengthwise offer a great platform to fill with cream cheese — jalapeno cream cheese is Kiekbush’s favorite — and baked. And nothing beats morels sauteed in olive oil or butter and piled atop a medium-rare steak.
People pay $50 a pound for dried morel mushrooms online
Like Kiekbusch, Melissa Clunn always looks forward to morel season, though she prefers the simpler ways of preparing them.
“Frankly, I’m old-school,” she said. “I store them in a paper bag in the fridge until I’m ready to use them. I use a natural bristle paintbrush to clean the sand and bugs off them and then usually slice them in half. A quick dredge in egg wash, then toss them in a seasoned flour and fry to perfection.”
She said she’s the only one in her family who likes morels.
“If I have extra they go between paper towels into the fridge,” Clunn said. “The next morning I love to make a farm-fresh egg omelet with Colby Jack cheese and fried morels, sometimes with a sprinkle of feta cheese.”
Clunn said she loves the wild morel taste, compared to store-bought ‘shrooms.
“Morels are wild, rich and very distinct,” she said. “I think that’s why it’s hard to put them in a recipe sometimes. To me, they are really special and I feel like it’s such a treat to where they grow. Especially when you consider that people pay $50 a pound for them dry online.”
Mike Brooks, a member of the Missouri Morel Mushroom Hunting group on Facebook, said one of his favorite ways to enjoy morels is to stuff them into meats, such as hamburgers or bison burgers, then cook them on a grill.
“It has that ‘oh my’ effect with every bite,” he said.
“Here’s another one I enjoy with deer meat,” Brooks said. “I take a tenderloin (it also works with pork tenderloin) and with a fillet knife cut it so it is flat. Then you can either place the morels onto the tenderloin whole or diced.
“Salt the morels, roll up the tenderloin and morels together and use cooking stakes to hold it together. You can wrap with bacon or not, then bake in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the thickness of your tenderloin and morel roll.”
An Italian flair to morel mushrooms
Tracy Katz Joe likes her morels in a pasta dish.
“I sauteed them with garlic, salt and pepper,” she noted. “Then I make fettuccine and toss them in with peas, crispy prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, parmigiana and a squeeze of lemon. Yum!”
Christine Motis-Van Ekelenburg has a different take on the morel pizza.
“We make morel pizzas every year, one with garlic sauce, arugula and fontina cheese,” she said. Something about the arugula and the mushrooms are fire!”
Morels traditionally are battered and fried in hot butter or olive oil, but Billy Joe Crumpton said morels crisp up nicely in an air fryer.
“We fried for years. Now we only use the air fryer,” he said. “Just pat them down and use a little olive oil. They come out crisp.”
Mary Hurst makes a morel-based gravy that she can only describe as “yummy.”
Brown morel mushrooms, saute onion until caramelized, throw in cut-in-half mushrooms and continue to cook until slightly brown,” she said. “Pour in water and thicken with cornstarch. Makes amazing brown gravy. Pour over rice or mashed potatoes. Yummy!”
Amanda Yaryan has a quick and easy recipe that get her kids involved.
“My children always pick out the biggest ones, fill with cream cheese, and put in the microwave for 30 seconds,” she said.
Brian Scott Smith said morels have an “earthy” taste, like other mushrooms, but also have a “distinctly sweet, nutty flavor that sets them apart.”
“One go-to for me is to saute them in butter and chopped garlic, then blend them into a homemade creamy cauliflower soup,” he said. “I also like sauteing them in butter with garlic and tossing into pasta with sliced steak or peas or broccoli. Pan-fried in cracker meal will always be the standard, but there are some amazing alternative ways to enjoy them if you’re lucky enough to hunt down more than just a few.”