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Morchella, the true morels, is a genus of edible mushrooms closely related to anatomically simpler cup fungi. These distinctive mushrooms appear honeycomb-like in that the upper portion is composed of a network of ridges with pits between them.
The ascocarps are prized by gourmet cooks, particularly for French cuisine. Commercial value aside, morels are hunted by thousands of people every year simply for their taste and the joy of the hunt.
Morels have been called by many local names; some of the more colorful include dryland fish, because when sliced lengthwise then breaded and fried, their outline resembles the shape of a fish; hickory chickens, as they are known in many parts of Kentucky; and merkels or miracles, based on a story of how a mountain family was saved from starvation by eating morels. In parts of West Virginia, they are known as “molly moochers.” Other common names for morels include sponge mushroom. Genus Morchella is derived from morchel, an old German word for mushroom, while morel itself is derived from the Latin maurus meaning brown.
Morels are a feature of many cuisines, including Provençal. Their unique flavor is prized by cooks worldwide, with recipes and preparation methods designed to highlight and preserve it. As with most edible fungi, they are best when collected or bought fresh. Morels occasionally contain insect larvae that drop out during the drying process.
One of the best and simplest ways to enjoy morels is by gently sauteeing them in butter, cracking pepper on top and sprinkling with salt. Others soak the mushrooms in an egg batter and lightly bread them with saltine crackers or flour before frying them.
Morels are not improved by extensive washing or soaking, as it may ruin the delicate flavor and require long cooking times. Due to their natural porosity, morels may contain trace amounts of soil which cannot be washed out. They can best be ‘flash frozen’ by simply running under cold water or putting them in a bucket to soak for a few minutes, then placing on a cookie sheet or pizza pan and placing into a freezer. After freezing they keep very fresh with the frozen glaze for a long time in Tupperware containers. However, when thawed they can sometimes turn slightly mushy in the cap. Any visible soil should be removed with a brush, after cutting the body in half lengthwise if needed.
Drying is a popular and effective method of long-term storage for morels, and they are readily available commercially in this form; dried morels can be reconstituted by soaking in warm water or milk. They may also be frozen after steaming or frying. Canning is not recommended because the necessary high pressure and temperature destroys much of the nutty flavor.
Porchetta: whole roast pig cooked with herbs and garlic Porcini: meaty wild mushrooms Primavera: springtime Prosciutto: salt-cured, air-dried pork Provolone: a straw-white cheese, sometimes smoked Olio: oil Olio di oliva: olive oil Origano: oregano
Orzo: small, seed-shaped pasta Ostriche: oysters Manzo: beef Marinara: a plain tomato sauce Marinare: to marinate Marsala: a rich brown fortified wine Mascarpone: creamy, soft, mild cheese