Fried Morels

morel mushrooms (morchella esculenta)

Not sure if I’m bragging or confessing; but either way we did pretty well morelling this year, at the expense of working on the new evergreen garden, up-potting the last batch of tomato seedlings, giving the raspberries their second weeding…

Morels Part 1: The All American Fried Morel Experiment

morels fried in assorted coatings

Although many delicious varieties of wild mushrooms grow in the US, almost all are collected and eaten by only a few, primarily mycology nuts and gastronomic sophisticates with plenty of disposable income.

But morels are different, small d democratic, hunted and loved by a huge diversity of country dwellers who put them in the same “well of course” mental basket as berries, ramps and dandelions. To my way of thinking this makes them the all-American mushroom.

Thus it follows as night the day (or vice versa, the Rapture having fizzled again) that – I hope I’m not offending anyone – they should be cooked at least once per season the classic American way: breaded and fried.

Actually, cracker-crumbed and fried. Saltines are the most common, but Ritz crackers and pre-seasoned cracker crumbs also have advocates.

Plain flour has many adherents, too, most of them on the scornful side when it comes to cracker crumbs.

So when Bill brought in a good supply of  specimens large enough to cut in cutlets I decided to give them a – limited, unscientific, not obsessivecompulsive Cooks Illustrated style – side by side comparison.

I chose 4 coatings, none of them crackers which have already over the years been tried and found overbearing.

1. Flour seasoned only with salt and white pepper

2. Flour seasoned with salt, white pepper and a few shreds of lemon zest

3. Fine cornmeal, seasoned with salt, white pepper and skepticism, but corn and morels is one of the great combos and cornmeal is great with fried green tomatoes, so…

4. Crushed shredded wheat. Mighty close to crackers, but I was curious because Bill had been reading to me – from his vast collection – about a recipe that nestled a morel preparation in nests of kadief, none of which we happened to have in the house.

The winner was the lemon zest flour. Bill rated the plain flour a distant second and the others “don’t feed me this again.” I thought the cereal had possibilities; the wheat flavor accented the meatiness of the mushrooms, and if I’d crushed it a bit finer…but he remained unpersuaded.

All-American Fried Morels

1. Choose large, grit-free, symmetrical morels. Cut off the stems and halve the caps the long way. If necessary, clean the inside surfaces – by wiping, not washing.

2. Prepare a shallow bowl of beaten egg thinned with a little milk. Set out a plate with the coating of choice.

2. Heat a generous 1/3rd inch layer of peanut or corn oil in a deepish skillet wide enough to hold the morel halves without crowding. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add enough unsalted butter to raise the fat level to 1/2 inch or so. Keep the mixture warm over low heat.

3. Coat the slices with the egg, pressing the honeycombed side down firmly so the egg gets into the holes and the slice flattens out a bit if it wasn’t flat already. Dip them in the coating, covering both sides of the slice with a thin layer. Set the slices aside on a rack.

4. Reheat the fat to @ 360 degrees. (A torn-off bit of morel should sizzle and slowly start to turn color.) Fry the slices, turning once, until they are richly browned. Drain on absorbent paper and serve as soon as possible.

Serving Suggestions: You can just put them on a plate and pass it around – assuming everything hasn’t already been snatched off the draining paper – but fried morels and mashed potatoes, with steamed asparagus on the side, is a favorite around here. They’re also nice with green salad (hooray for garden lettuce at last!) Or you can just keep going toward fried chicken: pour off almost all of the fat, make a roux – with the lemon flour if you used that – and make cream gravy.

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