In this series, we’ll be looking at ingredients which are common in Chinese supermarkets (超市,chāo shì) , but may be rare or expensive in our home countries. Each post includes a recipe, so you can start exploring a new world of food!
This post was going to be about mushrooms generally, but while gathering ingredients I came across something particularly exciting: morels. If your local supermarket stocks this fabulous fungus then I urge you to try some now, while it’s in season.
At nearly RMB 300 per kilogram, it’s not exactly cheap, but that’s still almost half the price you’d pay in Europe or the US (if you can find morels at all.) The reason it’s so expensive is that the morel has resisted all attempts to cultivate it, and can only be found in the wild, where it mostly grows on trees. The morel doesn’t have the same glamorous reputation as its subterranean cousin the truffle, but for my money it’s a richer and more complex experience: woody, nutty, and meaty, delicious with either a full white like a Chardonnay or a luscious red such as Primitivo.
Its subtle flavor is best enjoyed cooked simply, but the challenge is cleaning them. All those little holes in the cap can hide dirt or worms. (I still cringe with horror at the memory of the time I cooked risotto for a group of writers in Latvia with wild mushrooms from the market, but didn’t clean them properly, so everyone sat munching on grit with brave smiles.)
Opinion is bitterly divided on the internet (as it is about so many things) between advocates of soaking and dry brushing. I went for soaking, in part because of my Latvian experience but also because the morels felt quite dry. The results were fine, so here is my recipe for preparing and cooking morels:
- Rinse the morels in clean water.
- Pour a cup of boiling water into a bowl, and add salt (enough to kill any lurking life, but not so much as to ruin the flavor; a couple of tablespoons should do it.) Then add cold water until the bowl reaches room temperature. You don’t want to boil your mushrooms!
- Soak the morels in the salted water for 15-20 minutes, then drain. Remove any stray bits.
- Cut the morels in half lengthwise. Remove any remaining dirt inside with a damp piece of kitchen roll.
5. Get a heavy frying pan nice and hot, then dry fry the morels for a couple of minutes until they brown. Add a pat of butter and saute. At the last minute, chuck in a little splash of wine to deglaze the pan. Serve and savor.