Eating Morels in December – How to Preserve Your Bounty
If you are lucky enough to find more morels this season than you can manage to eat, there are many ways to preserve them for eating later. The most common way is to dry them. You can do this by stringing them up in a warm dry area for a few days or using a standard dehydrator. Some have used microwaves and conventional ovens to dry morels, but this is not recommended as it can be quite tricky leaving little room for error. Even the slightest mistake can lead to a ruined batch of mushrooms and disappointment. I dry mine and then store them in mason jars, but any airtight container will do. If you plan to store them for a while, I recommend going the extra step and storing the jars in the freezer. I have eaten dried morels stored in the freezer up to three years from picking and they were just as good as the first year. Make sure the container is airtight to avoid freezer burn.
Dried morels are great for cooking and once rehydrated can be used in any recipe. Remember to always rehydrate them for at least 3 hours though overnight is more preferable. Also, squeeze out a bit of the liquid before cooking. I often add dried morels directly to slow cooking soups and stews and let them rehydrate as they cook. If you need to rehydrate them faster, simmer them over low heat in liquid for about 15 minutes. They will be a little chewier than if you let them soak, but they are still good. You can also grind up dried morels into a great mushroom powder that adds wonderful richness and depth to sauces and omelets. I do not recommend trying to rehydrate and bread and fry dried morels. Although this works and is tasty, it usually results in crunchy chewy morels.
I use a different method of preservation for ensuring that I have good fried morels all year. This takes a lot more prep work but you get everything out of the way. First, clean the morels and prepare as if you were going to fry them. Slice in half and batter them however you normally do. I only use flour, salt and pepper to cover mine, but I’d bet this with work well for those who use an egg batter and crackers.
Next fry them in butter/oil over medium heat (preferably in an iron skillet) like you normally would but for ONLY 3-4 minutes per side. Take them out and place them on a large cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Once covered, place the cookie sheet in the freezer. After an hour or so, you can remove them from the cookie sheets using the wax paper when they get stuck and store them. I prefer to use large mason jars over freezer bags because they keep a little longer and don't get broken as easily, though Ziplocks will work fine storing them for up to a year. Because they were individually frozen on the sheets the morels shouldn’t stick together in the bags/jars.
When you want to eat some, prepare your butter/oil and take them straight from the freezer and fry them over medium for about 4 minutes on each side until they are golden brown. This year I did a family/friend taste test where I fried up some fresh ones I had just found and some frozen ones I had left over from the ones I prepared last spring. Only one person out of four was able to consistently tell me which they were eating. They said they only noticed a slight difference in texture. I myself could not really tell a difference, they were all just as good in my book.
If you have any great preservation tips, please feel free to comment and share some of your secrets to eating morels all year.