Or What to Do With Too Many Morels!
You are just back from a very productive trip to the woods with baskets and baskets of prime fresh morels (lucky you!). You eat morels for dinner. You have morels with scrambled eggs for breakfast. You make homemade morel paté to have with cheese and bread for lunch. Morels for dinner again. You love these fresh morels, but it is time to decide that "enough is enough, I must preserve some of these delectable morel morsels for later use".
There are many ways that various mushrooms can be preserved: canned, dried, frozen, pickled, and salted. Morels preserve best by drying or freezing.
Drying morels is the most popular method of preserving, and is my favorite. Morels, and any other mushrooms you preserve by dehydration, must be dried fast enough to prevent spoilage, but not so hot as to cook the fungus. The best way to dry morels is to use a commercial or homemade food dehydrator with the temperature set at 110 F (43 C). The morels can be placed into the dehydrator whole, but with many commercial dehydrators the drying screens are too close together and the morels need to be cut. I dry the small morels whole and cut the larger ones longitudinally (of course the largest never reach the drier, they get stuffed and eaten fresh!). Morels can also be dried by stringing them and placing them in a warm room with good air circulation. Some people dry morels in a warm oven with the door ajar, but if the temperature gets to 120 F or higher the flavor of the morels will deteriorate. However you dry your morels, make sure the finished product is crisp enough to be easily broken and pack them immediately into airtight containers.
Freezing morels, although a bit more work, is even simpler since you do not have to worry about the speed of drying or getting your morels sufficiently dehydrated. Just sauté the morels (whole, sliced, or chopped at your discretion) in butter or olive oil until done and all the water has evaporated. Pack them in containers small enough for a single meal and freeze. Some people have experimented with freezing morels without cooking, but my experience is that the result is a mass ruined morels!
Using frozen morels is simplicity itself. Just add the thawed morels into the dish near the end of its cooking cycle. In fact, in many moist dishes (soups, for example) the frozen morels can be added directly to the dish without thawing. Dried morels need to be reconstituted first by soaking them in warm to hot liquid (water or stock) until they are soft. And remember, most of the morel flavor is in the soaking liquid.
Although the flavor of frozen morels may be closer to fresh morels, the dried ones have a more intense flavor that is better than fresh in many sauces. This chicken and morel dish is designed to use this flavor intensity of the dried morels, but if you cannot wait to try it, by all means substitute fresh morels.
Chicken Stuffed with Hazelnut Butter
with Morel and Cilantro Cream Sauce
- 6 chicken thighs
- 12-18 dried morels
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped shallots
- 1/2 cup cream
- olive oil 1/2 cup hazelnut butter
- 1/2 cup white wine
- salt to taste
Heat the chicken stock and soak the morels for 20 minutes. Remove the morels from the soaking liquid and strain if necessary.
Skin and bone the chicken thighs. Pound them to one-half of their original thickness. Spread the hazelnut butter on the flattened thighs and roll them into logs. Secure with a toothpick if needed. Brown the thighs in olive oil, turning when necessary. When brown add 1/2 cup white wine, cover the pan, and braise until the chicken is just done. Do not overcook or the chicken will be tough and dry.
While the chicken is braising, saute the chopped shallots in 2 T olive oil until done. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Puree the stock and shallots in a blender or food processor. Return the sauce to the pan, add the morels and reduce liquid to 1/2 cup. During the last minute of the reduction, add the finely chopped cilantro. Add the cream and reduce the sauce to the desired consistency. Serve the sauce over the rolled chicken thighs with 2-3 morels per thigh.
Serving Suggestion: Accompany this dish with wild rice, steamed asparagus and a good Sauvignon Blanc.
Note: Hazelnut butter is the best choice for this dish, but it can be very hard to find in the market. You can make your own in a food processor by grinding hazelnuts into a butter. You can also substitute almond butter, which is more readily available.