Well, hello my little dumplings. I hope this spring weather has been treating you kindly, wherever you are! The daffodils are blooming, the bradford pears are shedding petals everywhere and the pollen is flying about in huge, sneezy clouds here in DC. Everything has a fine layer of yellow pollen covering it, including the interior of my sinuses. Yay spring!!!
Now, as I mentioned in my recent post about fiddlehead ferns, Spring offers a variety of special delicacies that can be foraged. Today, we will be discussing Morel Mushrooms, the bizarre looking little beasties that pop up in random spots in the woods. My Aunt Julia in Cookville, TN reports that these little gems can be found hiding randomly at the trunks of trees or under a log on her property. The locals call them "Dry Land Fishes", because of their preferred cooking method. Like catfish (wet water fishes, naturally), morels in Eastern Tennessee are breaded in cornmeal and fried. This actually sounds incredibly delicious, especially if there is any bacon grease involved, and I suspect that there is.
Anyhow, I have not had much contact with morels on my own terms, dried or fresh. I have eaten them in a few different formats at restaurants, most recently on a wood-fired pizza, which was DELICIOUS. So when I came across the opportunity to enter a morel recipe contest, of course I signed up right away! Not only would I have the chance to try out a recipe with 1 oz of dried morels, provided by the contest sponsors, I had the chance to WIN TWO POUNDS OF FRESH MORELS!!! What would I even do with such booty?!?! Wouldn't you like to know?!
The contest is sponsored by the fine folks at Marx Foods, who besides seeming very cool, sell a plethora of goodies such as Tahitian Vanilla Beans, some crazy hot dried chilies, fresh oysters, pate, spices and more! Our instructions were simply: make the most delicious, original morel recipe you can muster! We will be judged on how delicious our recipe appears. Unfortunately, I fear that I may already be facing a disadvantage... I unexpectedly returned home to Nashville, TN last weekend, right as the deadline for this contest approached. Luckily I took my dried mushies with me, and forced my family to eat a fancy morel-centric dish on Saturday night. I missed the last rays of sunshine, and was forced to snap some indoor pics in a rush right before- you don't mess around when you have a hungry dad stomping around in the background. So, while this photo may not be as appetizing as usual, please believe me when I say this recipe was VERY, VERY TASTY! Everyone ate it all up, and then went back for seconds! Without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to my potentially award-winning morel recipe!
Black Pepper Biscuit topped with Asparagus, Poached Egg and Morel Cream
This dish was inspired by the earthy flavors of springtime, as well as my Southern roots. Southerners loooooove biscuits, so eggs benedict with a biscuit is one of my favorite things. The asparagus replaces the meat, and the morel cream takes the place of hollandaise- a tasty spring take on a brunch (or dinner) favorite. Morels have this meaty, rich flavor and they just love to be bathed in cream and butter. Love it.
Because this dish has several components, it should be timed just right. Start with heating water for the dried morels, as they will need time to reconstitute (see below). Then begin the biscuits, but don't put them in the oven until you've started the morel cream. Then put on two pots of water to heat, one for asparagus and one for the poached eggs. Once the biscuits are about to be taken out of the oven and the cream looks thick, start steaming and poaching. Hopefully this will allow all items to come out relatively close to one another, and arrive at the table piping hot!
Overall, this dish serves 4-6 people.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 3/4 cups cold buttermilk
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In the bowl of your food processor, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pulse a couple times to to distribute the ingredients, then add butter over the top of the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and pulse until the mixture just begins to come together.
Flour a clean surface and dump out the dough. Pat the dough into a large rectangle, about 1 in thick. I finished with a rolling pin, just because I like to make sure it is even thickness throughout. Use a 3-inch round cutter to stamp out your biscuits. Place them on a baking pan covered with parchment. At this point I ground black pepper onto the biscuits and lightly patted it in. Then press together the remaining scraps of dough, and repeat process. Lightly brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with more black pepper. Bake the biscuits for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown. You’ll know when they look ready!
- 1 oz dried morels, reconstituted
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 shallots, finely minced
- 1/2 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 3/4 heavy cream
- 1 dash cayenne pepper
Bring water to a boil. In a bowl, combine mushrooms and water. Let sit for about 15 minutes. When mushrooms have become plump and moist, remove them with a slotted spoon and coarsely chop. Reserve mushroom water.
Heat a saucepan over medium heat and melt butter. Add shallots and saute until translucent. Add morels and thyme, and saute together for about 3 minutes. Now add 1/2 cup of reserved mushroom water, carefully to make sure that none of the grit that may have accumulated in the bottom of the water gets into your sauce. Let simmer until it has reduced by at least 1/3 and then add heavy cream. Let simmer until it becomes thick. Add a dash of cayenne (just a bit, you don't want to really taste it, just experience a bit of a kick!)
NOTE: Unfortunately for me, this never reached a thickness that pleased me, and I was out of any thickening agents that might have helped. In hindsight, it might have been advisable to make a roux to begin with... we'll just have to give the recipe another whirl to find out a better method. It did taste fabulous though, so at least those directions should work for you.Asparagus
One bundle of fresh asparagus should be more than enough. You want medium-thick stalks- not too fat, but not skinny little guys either. Snap the ends off a few inches from the bottom. Heat a couple inches of water to a boil in a pot, and set your steaming colander inside. Salt the water and add asparagus, steaming until crisp-tender. Shock them in a bowl of cold water to keep their green color and remove to dry. Trim to the size of your biscuit.Poached Egg
We used farm eggs from Summerton, TN and they were very good. To poach them, heat a pot of water to a simmer. Add a splash of white vinegar, which will help the eggs to coagulate better. Gently crack an egg into a large spoon or ladle and lower into the water. Let simmer for 2 minutes or so for a runny egg, 3-4 more for firm. Remove from water using a slotted spoon.TO PLATE:
Slice open warm biscuit. Place trimmed asparagus on bottom half and top with poached egg. Generously ladle morel cream alllllll over it! Seriously, don't be stingy because that stuff is goooooood. You'll fight your dining companions for more.
The next morning I got up and used the 5 or 6 morels I'd squirreled away, the bottoms of the asparagus spears leftover from the night before and some leeks to make a savory frittata. It's the perfect ending to an extended feast of morels and I recommend it to you all.