Morels are the story

Regular readers of "Flash in the Pan" are probably well aware that Chef Boy Ari is a big fan of a local diet. The local diet is tastier, healthier, better for your community, more fun and, if you do it right, cheaper. But pulling it off is no simple thing, nor is it an impulsive endeavor, especially this time of year. You can't just all of a sudden decide say, in December, "hey, I'm going to eat locally today." It takes planning.

Late last spring, I advised readers to stash rhubarb in the freezer, so it would be available when the strawberries - and then the apricots, apples and plums - are ready. Thus, you are prepared to make pie, or Marge's campfire breakfast crisp.

Marge taught me her strawberry rhubarb crisp recipe at morel camp, when we were plucking the fungal fruits of the previous summer's fires. I ended that Flash with the cryptic foreshadowing: And when your bucket is full of morels that you plucked through the wet ashes dry them, or sauté them, in butter and freeze them. Save them however you can and use them in autumn, because few things are better with morels than wild game.

Yes, wild mushrooms do indeed go very well with wild things, like deer or game birds. They also go well with other wild things, like wild rice. And to prove it, I'm going to give you a great recipe for morels and wild rice, handed down by Marge, who literally wrote the book on morel cooking. Her book, Morelling (a term she coined) is a fun and informative read, with lots of info on how to find and cook morels. It includes such whimsical topics as "the connection between morels and beer" and is full of nice illustrations. You can get this book by contacting the Western Montana Mycological Association, P.O. Box 7306, Missoula, MT 59807.

This is a rich recipe, which is what morels deserve. For 1 cup wild rice, melt ¼ cup butter in a skillet and sauté ½ pound morels in the butter.

This time of year, of course, nobody has fresh morels. And anyone who has looked at the price of dried morels at the store knows that half a pound costs about $50. But don't worry, Half a pound of dried morels would be way more than you need for this recipe. What you need, in this case, is about 1 cup dried morels. To rehydrate them, put them in a Ziploc bag, boil 1/3 cup water with a little sherry, and pour it into the bag. Seal the bag, and let it sit overnight.

This trick, by the way, is the best way to rehydrate any dried mushrooms, be they oyster, porcini or chanterelle. Anyone who tells you they don't like dried mushrooms has never let them slowly rehydrate. Guaranteed.

Add your rehydrated mushrooms to the butter and saute them. After they are good and cooked, remove them from the butter and add the raw wild rice, stirring constantly until slightly browned. Then add two chopped leeks, ½ cup slivered almonds, the morels, and sauté for about 3 minutes on medium heat. Add 3 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock. If you want to add some herbs, I recommend a miniscule amount of tarragon. According to Marge, "a little thyme wouldn't be too bad," either. Put a lid on the pan and bake for an hour at 325.

Now I'll tell you a nice way to serve those morels with meat. Although this recipe works with any kind of meat, the darker and gamier, the better, such as lamb or deer. Beef is OK, as it will pick up the earthiness of the mushrooms. Not recommended for pork, chicken or fish.

The night before, rehydrate some morels with a little boiling water and sherry, as described above. Three hours before eating, take your meat and lightly score it with a knife, making ¼-inch cuts along the surface of the meat. Plop this in a marinade of mashed garlic, soy sauce, red wine, pepper, sherry, and olive oil. Toss the rehydrated morels in the marinade, too. Let that sit for a few hours.

When you are ready to cook it up, fry some bacon in a pan. Remove the heat, and roll the meat around in the bacon grease. This is a technique called "larding," by which fat is added to extra-lean meat. Remove your thusly larded meat from the pan, put the heat back on, and add the bloody mushroom marinade to the pan. The morels will have likely absorbed much of the liquid and be reluctant to give it back, so you might need to add more sherry. Madeira also works great with morels. With these liquid additions, keep the pan nice and juicy, and while that's cooking, grill or broil your meat until done. Then, slice up the meat, still hot, and pour the sauce from the pan over it all and serve. It goes really well with that wild rice, a glass of red wine and a salad vinaigrette. ☯






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