Game of Concentration: Dried Morels

Cook it Forward Spring 2018 Issue

Game of Concentration: Dried Morels

By Terese Allen | Photos By Jim Klousia 0

Anyone who has known me longer than about one day knows I am a fanatic about fresh morels. They’ve heard me go on about blissful discoveries of those wily little trolls, how they dance in hot butter and taste like dark magic. But I’m also passionate about dried morels, which, truth be told, are even more intensely flavored than fresh, and more long-lasting.

Dehydrating morels appeals to the do-it-yourselfer in me—the person who, like more and more cooks today, wants to craft high-quality foodstuffs from scratch, avoid food waste and make the most of seasonal ingredients. DIYers don’t just cook, we freeze, pickle, can, dry and ferment. We think local, buy fresh, cook thrifty. Best of all, we eat deliciously all year long. (And dang if we aren’t healthier for it, too.)

This month, I’m bringing my two loves—morels and DIYing—together to kick off a new column. The plan is this: Each issue I’ll feature an easy-going how-to method for preserving or using up seasonal foods, or for making your own food products.

Shall we get to it?

Drying mushrooms is uncomplicated and un-demanding. The hands-on part involves slicing them in half if they’re large, brushing off excess dirt (and any critters) and trimming away imperfections. Many guides will tell you to soak morels in salted water, too, but I feel that affects the flavor and makes them harder to dry, so I rinse lightly now and drain them on paper towels. Then I rinse again much later, after they’ve been reconstituted and are about to be cooked.

Morels can be air-dried or dehydrated in an oven (click here for a step-by step guide to these methods), but I use a food dryer. Though not usually one for single-use culinary contraptions, I put my five-tray Excalibur brand dehydrator to steady, reliable use all year long to dry not just mushrooms, but fruits, vegetables and herbs, too. Like other food dryers, it uses a low-temperature heating element to remove moisture from food, plus a fan and an air vent that blow the warm, moist air out of the appliance.

No matter what brand or size dryer you choose, lay the morels in a single layer on the trays—for maximum space usage and best air circulation, place them close together but not quite touching. Turn the dial to the recommended setting for mushrooms (that will be between 110 and 120 degrees) and away they go. After about ten hours, remove a mushroom, let it cool for a moment and give it a squeeze; if it feels spongy, the mushrooms are not yet ready. Test again every hour or two; you’ll know they’re done when a mushroom “clicks” if you tap it on the counter.

All that’s left now is to completely cool the fungi and place them in airtight containers. (I use canning jars, so that I can admire my little jewels through the glass). Now the dried morels can be tucked away in your pantry or freezer, ready to add deep umami savor to meals all through the year—think tomato sauce in summer, risotto in fall, stews and casseroles in winter.

To rehydrate morels, immerse them in hot water until they’re plump and springy, about ten to fifteen minutes. Give each one a good rinse and they’re ready for the fry pan…or braiser or soup pot. Don’t throw away that leftover liquid! Strain it through cheesecloth and you’ve got another morel marvel—mushroom stock—that you can refrigerate for up to a week or freeze in freezer-safe containers or ice cube trays.

Now, put them to good use in one of these recipes featuring those dried treasures!

Penne with Tomatoes, Dried Morels and Mascarpone Sauce

Risotto with Dried Morels and Fresh Wild Mushrooms

Wild Rice with Chicken and Dried Morels

Terese Allen has written scores of books and articles about the foodways of Wisconsin, including the award-winning titles "The Flavor of Wisconsin" and "The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids." She is co-founder and a longtime leader of the Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin (CHEW). If you want to get Terese going, just ask her the best way to fix an old-fashioned, how to hunt for morels, or why fish fries thrive in our state.

Comments [0]

More Articles: