The mild, damp days of a Midwest spring make for ideal wild harvest conditions.
Usually near the beginning of May, morel mushrooms push their way out of moist, deciduous forest floors. Around the same time, wild leeks – also known as ramps – begin sprouting out of sandy soil commonly found near riverbanks and creeks.
This week’s installment seeks to answer the question, “What are some of the best ways to cook morels and leeks?”
This week’s Ask a Foodie question asks, “It’s about time for morel mushrooms and wild leeks to start growing. What are some of the best ways to cook them?”
Maureen Kercher, owner of Kercher’s Sunrise Orchards in Goshen, said her business has been selling morels for about 45 years.
“We’ve sold, prepared and eaten many pounds of morels over the years,” Kercher said. “Most people enjoy the fried morels the best.”
“The most important thing on morels is to clean them properly and keep them cold,” she advised. “Paper bag, plastic bag, however you want to keep them in the refrigerator is fine.”
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When ready to cook, Kercher recommends cutting the mushrooms in half and soaking them in salted water for about 15 minutes. The salt, she said, gets any bugs out of the morels that may be hidden and the soaking loosens up residual dirt particles.
The cold-water rinse should be repeated three to four times during the soak to ensure a thorough cleaning.
Once rinsed, the mushrooms should be dried completely.
For frying, Kercher uses one stick of butter for every pound of mushrooms.
“You shake them in a baggie with flour, salt and pepper,” she said. “Take them out of the bag and knock some of the loose flour off. And then you fry them on each side.”
The process typically takes 15 to 20 minutes over medium heat.
“You could put them in soups, in stews … a lot of different things,” Kercher said. “Most people just like to fry them up and eat them with steak or some sort of meat.”
Matthew Jay, executive chef at Elkhart’s Artisan restaurant, also uses the frying method when serving the seasonal delicacy.
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“Of course we clean them and we would just quickly sautee them in butter with garlic or shallot and then toss them with fresh pasta,” Jay said. “We keep it real simple — nothing too fussy. The frying thing is done a bit, but usually just butter and salt and pepper. Maybe white wine.”
Jay often includes wild leeks as a complementary ingredient to his fish entrees and as a base flavoring for soup stocks.
“Leeks are one of those ingredients you can use pretty much anywhere an onion would be used,” Jay said. “A lot of the time what we use leeks for here is our stocks and our sauces. We use it to fortify our chicken stock, veal stock, duck stock—whatever we’re making.”
The Artisan crew slowly poach the leeks in stock until they tenderize. They are then pulled from the stock and tossed with butter, salt and pepper. Jay is currently serving wild ramps alongside walleye, but also recommends them with perch during the spring season.