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Cooking Morels

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The table awaits the feast. Everyone else is out hunting morels; I've got the kitchen to myself. Of course, I already have about 100 morels in the fridge to work with; only a fool plans a feast before picking.

The centerpiece: the glorious bloom heads of Syringa vulgaris "Aunt Lolly." 
Is this the sweetest time of year?

Any good feast starts with heavy cream and butter. At least it does around here, where we ascribe to the "fat doesn't make you fat; carbs do!" gospel. We eat pretty French. To those first two essentials, I'd add shallots. These hard little red onions impart a flavor that's impossible to get anywhere else, and they cook up super soft. So. Start by sauteeing chopped shallots in butter, and when they're soft, add a whole bunch of whipping cream. Like a pint, to feed six. More than you think you'll need, because it cooks down. The beauty of whipping cream is that you can boil it and reduce it. It'll foam up, but rarely overflows the way milk does. Just don't walk away. While it's simmering, add cold butter in small amounts, about a half a stick total. Stir as you add the butter. 

While that's cooking down, start sauteeing your chicken breast, with more butter and shallots. Get the pan good and hot and don't overcrowd it, or the chicken will poach instead of browning deliciously. Just another thing I learned in an afternoon cooking workshop with Chef Dave Rudie. I was an incorrigible overcrowder of sautee pans before I took that workshop. And my chicken breast was always tough and bland. Now it's succulent, and I have a hard time keeping the kids out of it before serving it. They nip in, grab a strip, run out...nip in, grab, run...I love it. This is a properly uncrowded pan.

Chop your mushrooms. I use a kitchen shears. I hardly ever use knives any more. Kitchen shears rock.
That's the lone oyster mushroom on the upper left.
It went into the mix, too.

On the left are the half-free morels, and on the right are the white morels. You cut up stem and all.
It looks like calamari, doesn't it?

Now sautee those in shallots and butter, in the same pan you cooked the chicken breast in. As the drippings rise up from the mushrooms (they're mostly water), pour those drippings into your simmering cream/butter/shallot mixture. Same goes for any excess chicken drippings. Don't throw anything out!
The mushrooms don't have to cook long, just enough to soften and visibly shrink.
Take them out and set them aside, pouring the juices that will collect under them into your cream sauce.

Now comes the top-secret part. To the cream sauce, I add a bloop of honey mustard, a tablespoon or two of Tennessee sourwood honey (it's got a whang to it), salt, pepper, and the Most Top Secret Ingredient:  A chunk of frozen paw paw pulp from last September. I have it frozen in ziplocs and I am very nearly out of it, but it makes a heck of a lovely addition to my cream sauces. ohhhhh yummmmm. It gives the sauce that je ne sais quoi that happens in really good recipes.

Immediately before serving, combine chicken, mushrooms, shallots and the turbocharged honey mustard pawpaw shallot cream sauce and simmer for a couple of minutes to heat everything through.

Serve over rice, with homegrown asparagus, if you've got it. And we've got it.


Our guest John has selected a lovely pink California wine, Bieler Pere et Fils, a rose (it would be so nice if I would learn how to put accents on letters, but I won't) redolent of strawberries, as a fit companion to the mushroom feast. None of us is in the habit of drinking pink wine, but this is really clean, crisp, and perfect, a Wine Shop recommendation. Bill "reads" the label, fabricating a great deal as he goes along. Much of it is a bit rude.

Which Liam appreciates greatly.

Guests await the feast.

Chet Baker is waiting to clean the plates before they go in the dishwasher. He loves him some morel sauce.

 They are going to make me get down out of this chair before dinner. I know it. And I also know they are going to lick their plates. I will not get enough sauce. So I am giving Mether the stink eye so she gives me my own chicken. Because I am fainting from hunger. It smells so delicious!

I will keep my station on John's lap, because guests are the most likely to cave in.


Wow! Thanks for sharing that. I just found a bunch of morels in my birding patch and my wife loves to cook, so we'll have to try this out!

Hahaha Chet Baker is adorable sitting at the dinner table!

Posted by Anonymous May 5, 2011 at 6:37 AM

The food looks delicious. I can almost smell it. Yum.
I hope Chet got his share of the sauce. He's so adorable.

Wow! Drool. When will your cookbook come out? It would be really fun to have a cookbook on native foods to sell in our Nature Store at Anahuc National Wildlife Refuge. We have a few books here by Bill and Good Birder's Don't Wear White with chapters by you and Bill. So you already have name recognition. You'll have to include lots of fish and crawfish recipies for us southerners though. I'm starving!!! There aren't many morels in my little patch of suburbia, so I'll just have to enjoy the virtual feast.

Holy Hannah, that looks soooo good! Thanks... I think. :)

Oh, amazingly delicious sounding - I'm going to try a NW version (alas sans Pawpaw) where we do have some morels and asparagus coming up. I literally fell off my chair laughing at Chet Baker's "stink eye." Thanks!

yes, Chet giving the stinky eye... TOO much!... ROFL

This is almost enough to make me reconsider mushrooms. Long time fungus dis-liker here but now I can't really remember why! The texture I think. I hope you oohed and ahhed and splooshed in your best Julia Child voice while you cooked up this feast - I have no doubt it was properly enjoyed. Rose is another thing I'm reconsidering. Not much for pink wine but friends who know things have told me they'll find me a good rose - with an accent.

Stink eye indeed! Love it.

Rice! Yes! I was sure you would say pasta.

Nothing against pasta, but I am such a ricy guy. I could have it daily.

That sounded so good I think I virtually smelled it cooking.

Bear is our prewash rinse also.

You're brave to admit you have all those mushrooms in your freezer, with Dawn and Jeff so close to your neck of the woods.

I LOVE lilacs. They are wimpy here in North Carolina, but they were one of my favorite things about the Midwest. I have been known to carry an extra suitcase up there at lilac time, just to be able to fill it with lilacs to bring back home.

Posted by Anonymous May 6, 2011 at 7:21 AM

Hey, John, thanks for the photos.I'm so glad you got to connect with some great Mtta. friends and my mom too! We are in Lake Conroe down near Houston and it's absolutely beautiful--taller trees, great scenery, beautiful lake. MC and I are going swimming now b/c Jeff is in a golf tournament.
The blogspot is great--good family times, great recipe!
-Ruth W.

Posted by Anonymous May 6, 2011 at 8:15 AM

Would love to read a cookbook you had written, full of 'bloops' and 'whangs,' kitchen shear knives and Chet Baker.
Thank you again for sharing these tasty bits of your days.

I get a kick out of that dog, he looks to be loving the attention. Richard from Lebanons Amish settlement.

Julie, what a captivating dish! I am intrigued with your blend of unusual ingredients and the sauce sounds exquisite.

Since I lack creativity, to an almost dangerously low level, I run around cooking blogs and thank people for their ideas. Yours - first of the kind. From those I've seen, though. Very nicely sounding dish. Quite experimental in my eyes! :) Thank you very, very much.

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