Delicate and elusive, morels are a gourmet prize that were once limited to those willing to muck around in the forest in search of these harbingers of spring. Today they are often found at farmers markets and specialty stores. They are fragile, highly perishable, and resist cultivation, so they tend to be pricey.
How to Cook With Morels
A few of these cone-shaped, sponge-textured fungi add a lot to pastas and risottos (such as this Morel Mushroom Risotto).
If you're lucky enough to have a lot of morels, they are at their finest when cooked quickly in butter and lightly salted (see How to Saute Morels for specifics) or tossed on a grill (see Grilled Morels for a full recipe).
Morels are particularly delicious when paired with those fellow harbingers of spring, asparagus - a simple sauté of Asparagus & Morels is one of my favorite things to eat when they're both at the market.
How to Choose Morels
Morels are usually between two and four inches long, and range in color from pale cream to almost black. The darker the color of the morel, the smokier, nuttier, and earthier the flavor will be.
Look for fresh, plump specimens whose cut ends aren't completely dried out. Avoid bruised or softening morels, especially if you're not going to use them immediately since that damage will make them rot quickly.
How to Store Morels
Store morels in a paper bag and use as quickly as possible.
Time in the fridge is just going to dry them out, but if you do need to store them do so in a paper bag so they can breathe, not a plastic one.
If you're lucky enough to get a lot of morels, you can always dry them.
How to Clean Morels
Don't clean morels until you are ready to cook them, since they will have absorbed some water and are more likely to mold or rot if stored after cleaning.
Fake Morels and Foraging Safety
Like all mushrooms, morels have deadly imitators. If you decide to try foraging them for yourself, do so with an experienced guide. Mycological societies around the country offer free mushrooms walks and mushroom identification seminars to help get new wild mushroom enthusiasts started.