A morel may love and need rainwater, and lots of it, to sprout up from the ground, but the love ends there. The issue with morels and most every mushroom is that they are like a sponge. That’s a quality when it comes to imparting flavor, like garlic, in a mushroom.  When it comes to getting morels clean, the sponginess means they absorb too much of any water that is used to clean them.

So we brush, we scrape a little, we even blow off the dirt here and there. On a button mushroom, one can see her results clearly: either it’s dirty or it isn’t.

With a morel, all of those psychedelic nooks and crannies that make it look as though it was harvested from Middle Earth also make it a bear to clean.

Ashleigh of the Michigan Mushroom Market wants us not to worry too much about dirt in the morels. Unless they’ve been dragged through the mud after picking, they shouldn’t be all that dirty. Here’s the cleaning methods she swears by:

  • Brush dirt off the morel with a pastry or other veggie brush.
  • Look into the morel’s tubular stem and be sure it’s clear of any debris. Tap the morel to shake off any other dirt.
  • If you must, give the mushroom a very swift rinse of cold water in a colander just before cooking it, and pat it dry thoroughly.
  • The fresher the morel, the better its flavor, and the less it is able to withstand any kind of water cleaning.
  • The longer a morel sits in water, the more its flavor is released out of the mushroom and into the water. That’s a pity.
  • Morels get dried out swiftly, so if yours seem rather dry, they’ll be able to take more of a soak than a quick rinse. Some say it’s best to let the mushrooms sit overnight in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator. Ashleigh says no way. Instead, quick-rinse just before cooking.
  • I did something in between the long soak and quick rinse with my morels. Harkening back to culinary school, where herbs and other greens were dunked in cold water at least three times to wash any dirt away, I gave that same treatment to the mushrooms. Enough dirt was cleared off that I would happily sacrifice the bit of flavor that went down the drain with the dirt, just for peace-of-mind-clean.

None of this about cleaning the morels would make sense if you dig Michael Pollen’s latest on the good uses of dirt in our bodies (“Some of my best friends are germs”). As much as I’d like to be at ease with the many life-forms that do and should inhabit our guts and the rest of our beings, I figure this is one of those instances where ignorance may well be bliss. But then, I’m a well-known Purell junkie. Clean is a habit that’s going to be pretty tough to break.

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