Regular readers of Flash in the Pan are probably well aware that Chef Boy Ari is a big fan of a local diet. The local diet is tastier, healthier, better for your community, more fun and, if you do it right, cheaper. But pulling it off is no simple thing, nor is it an impulsive endeavor, especially this time of year. You can’t just all of a sudden decide, “hey, I’m going to eat locally today.” It takes planning.
Late last spring I advised readers to stash rhubarb in the freezer, so it would be available when the strawberries—and then the apricots, apples and plums—are ready. Thus, you are prepared to make pie, or Marge’s campfire breakfast crisp, for which I provided a recipe.
I learned Marge’s strawberry rhubarb crisp recipe at morel camp, where we were plucking the fruits of the previous summer’s fires. I ended that Flash with the following cryptic foreshadowing: And when your bucket is full of morels that you plucked through the wet ashes…dry them, or sauté them in butter and freeze them. Save them however you can and use them in autumn, because few things are better with morels than wild game.
And here we are, at the tail end of hunting season, and I’m going to give you some tips on cooking morels with wild game. I’m also going to give you a great recipe for morels and wild rice, handed down by Marge, who literally wrote the book on morel cooking. Her book, Morelling (a term she coined) is a fun and informative read, with lots of info on how to find and cook morels. You can get this book by contacting the Western Montana Mycological Association: P.O. Box 7306, Missoula, MT 59807.
This is a rich recipe, which is what morels deserve. For one cup wild rice, melt 1/4 cup butter in a skillet and sauté 1/2 pound morels in the butter.
This time of year, of course, nobody has fresh morels. And anyone who has looked at the price of dried morels at the store knows that 1/2 pound costs about $45. But that would be way more than you need. What you need, in this case, is about 1 cup dried morels. To rehydrate them, put them in a Ziploc bag, boil 1/2 cup water with a little sherry, and pour it into the bag. Let it sit overnight.
This trick, by the way, is the best way to rehydrate any dried mushrooms, be they oyster, porcini or chanterelle.
Add your rehydrated mushrooms to the butter and sauté them. After they are good and cooked, remove them from the butter and add the raw wild rice, stirring constantly until slightly browned. Then add two chopped leeks, 1/2 cup slivered almonds, the morels, and sauté for about 3 minutes on medium heat. Add 3 cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock. Put a lid on the pan and bake for an hour at 325. If you want to add some herbs, I recommend a miniscule amount of tarragon. According to Marge, “a little thyme wouldn’t be too bad,” either.
Now that you’ve got your earthy side dish, the question arises: what are you going to serve with it? Look no farther than your freshly stocked freezer. Serving deer meat with the morels and rice brings us full circle back to the topic of planning ahead for a five-star local meal. You can’t hunt when the morels are popping, but you can thaw some frozen deer. Likewise, you probably can’t find fresh morels during hunting season, but you can rehydrate them. Then thaw yourself some frozen kale, crack a jar of pickled peppers, open a bottle of hard cider and you can forget about the damn supermarket and eat like royalty, for free.
Here is a nice way to serve those morels with deer. It would also work fine with any kind of meat, the darker and gamier the better. The night before, rehydrate some morels with a little boiling water and sherry, as described above. Three hours before, take your meat and lightly score it with a knife, making 1/4 inch cuts in the surface of the meat. Plop this in a marinade of mashed garlic, soy sauce, red wine, pepper and olive oil. Toss the rehydrated morels in there too. Let that sit for a few hours.
When you are ready to cook it up, fry some bacon in a pan. Remove the heat, and roll the meat around in the bacon grease. This is a technique called “larding,” by which fat is added to extra-lean meat. Remove your thusly larded meat from the pan, put the heat back on, and add the bloody mushroom marinade to the pan. While that’s cooking, grill or broil your meat until done. Then slice it up, still hot, and pour the sauce from the pan over it all and serve. It goes really well with that wild rice and a glass of red wine.