My first experience with morels was transcendent. I was, at the time, a sixteen or so year-old who was convinced that I simply did not enjoy mushrooms. I have since seen the light, but back then they were uniformly foul.
I was visiting my father’s family on their farm in upstate New York. We went up there a few times when I was a child, making the long drive from Virginia, but it had been quite a long time. It is a beautiful place in the summer, like so much of the east coast. The dense canopies of broadleaf trees blot out the summer sun, creating a strange sense of permanent dusk as you walk below them. The land is just so full of life in a way that the western deserts often are not.
While out west it seems everyone likes to hunt morels in wildfire scars, I’ve heard that back east the best places to find them are quite different. And the old farm happen to have one of the prime morel-hunting grounds I’ve often heard spoken of: an old orchard.
While we were visiting someone took a slow gander through the orchard and happened upon a few choice morels, which they brought back for all of us to enjoy. Grandma took them to the kitchen and cooked them for us all to have a taste before dinner. She did them simply, just fried in butter with salt and pepper, but they were exquisite. It was a world-shifting moment for me–who knew that mushrooms could taste this damn good?
For years, that was my only taste of morels. I went out casually hunting a few times but never had any luck. Fortunately, last autumn, my failures as a forager were made up for by the generosity of a friend. I was talking to my buddy Justin about my inability to locate morels around here and he informed me that he happened to be sitting on a fat larder of dried morels at home. A friend of his had led him to a sweet spot sometime in the past and he took home far more than he knew what to do with. An accord was reached–I brought him a fat sack of produce from my garden and he traded me a jar of precious, dried morels.
The morels sat in my cupboard for a few months before I knew what to do with them. I finally landed on my biscuits and gravy. This is my absolute favorite breakfast, and one that I rarely eat, due to a desire to avoid farmed meat in my kitchen. But it seemed like the perfect place to let these morels shine, flavoring something hearty and delicious.
Biscuits and Morel Gravy
2 cups re-hydrated morels, chopped (around ⅔ cup dried morels)
4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1.5 cups vegetable broth
2.5 cups whole milk
½ tsp sage, preferably fresh, chopped
½ tsp rosemary, preferably fresh, chopped
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Salt + Pepper
This recipe was made with dehydrated morels. I think it would also work quite well with fresh morels, but the preparation would be a bit different. Start by dumping your dehydrated morels into a vessel and then topping with boiling vegetable broth. Feel free to toss in a couple sage leaves or sprigs of rosemary if you have them on hand as well as a few cranks of black pepper. Put this in the fridge and let it sit overnight to rehydrate the mushrooms and steep into a hearty mushroom broth.
To start the gravy, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, stir in 3 tablespoons of flour and the sage, rosemary, and black pepper. Allow this to cook, stirring regularly, until it is golden brown and smells delicious.
At this point, you can begin adding the milk and broth a bit at a time. Pour a half cup or so of one in and stir it up until it is uniform in texture. Then do the same with the other. Once you have a bit of gravy (maybe up a cup of broth and a cup of milk in there) you can add the chopped morels.
Continue adding milk and broth until they’re gone. If the gravy gets too thin, let it simmer off a bit of moisture. If it gets too thick, add a bit more milk. When you’ve got it where you want it, give it a taste and add salt and pepper if it needs it–the broth is quite salty, so you shouldn’t need to add much.
Serve over biscuits of any sort you like. I usually just make drop biscuits, and their somewhat dry nature works perfectly with a hearty gravy. Wouldn’t be bad over a piece of chicken or beef either.