Spring is Morel Mushroom season and one of the biggest questions most people have is how to clean and store morel mushrooms. Let me teach you the best way to clean morel mushrooms and how to store them so that they stay fresh the longest.
You might be wondering what qualifies ME to be an expert in cleaning morel mushrooms (and other wild harvest mushrooms) and storing morel mushrooms. My husband first introduced me to foraging for Morels in 2001, since we’ve gone every early spring and I’ve been the person who cleans and makes sure they are stored the best way(s) possible ensuring longevity.
On a good year, it’s common for us to harvest over 1,000 morels in a spring! Needless to say, I’ve had lots of time to determine what works and what does not. I’ve also gone through a bunch of hiking boots during that long time too 🙂
The Best way to Clean Morel Mushrooms
To soak or not to soak, that is the question when it comes to cleaning all mushrooms, including morels. Such controversial topic amongst morel hunters and I’m going to eliminate any confusion for you today! I’m excited to teach you the best way to clean morel mushrooms.
Morel Mushrooms, like all wild foraged edible mushrooms, grow outdoors in nature, duh, right?! And in this natural environment includes dirt, bugs and weather, even in the best of circumstances. These 3 factors are the largest factor that determine the best way to clean morel mushrooms.
There is no absolute best way for cleaning delicate mushrooms in all situations and for all mushrooms. Anyone telling you otherwise is simply a silly-goose. (a nice way of saying to ignore such statements from such know-it-alls)
Generally speaking, in an ideal world you don’t want to expose any mushroom to water when cleaning but it’s simply not realistic in 99% of the morels we’ve picked.
There are times when we’ve picked extremely clean raw morel mushrooms and other times the morel mushrooms are extremely dirty. This is outside of your control and both situations require different cleaning techniques for these sponge mushrooms with an earthy flavor and meaty texture.
The cleaner the mushrooms are when you pick them, the less cleaning they require prior to consuming. Thus the dirtier the mushrooms are when you pick them, the more cleaning they require… and the dirty mushrooms definitely benefit from soaking in water, sometimes you might even want to add some salt.
Unless you like a side of dirt and bugs with your mushrooms, the by all means just toss the dirty mushrooms into the skillet – you do you boo. For me, it’s a hard pass on bugs & dirt whenever possible.
Note: not all of you whom are coming to this post have wild foraged your morels from mushroom hunting but this all applies just the same to morels from your farmers market or grocery store.
How to Clean Morel Mushrooms
We just returned from the woods with the first black morels of the year (March 26, 2023 in highlands of Fayette County, Pennsylvania) these cute little beauties are pretty clean, all things considered. However, due to the crevaces in the textured top cap as well as the open stem there are plenty of places for dirt and bugs to hide.
Cleaning mushrooms starts when you are harvesting the mushrooms in the woods. Pay attention int he photo above that the mushroom stems were cleanly CUT above the sandy soil and dirt. Dirt left on the base of the mushroom will transfer to the others in your basket and create more dirt to clean later. Like the saying goes ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ that applies to clean mushrooms as well.
Nothing is more annoying to me as a fellow forager, than when people proudly post photos of beautiful freshly picked mushrooms with dirt attached and such little regard for the most basic cleanliness. Do better friends! Morel mushrooms are precious and take the extra time to carefully harvest them, cutting the dirty part off and leave it in the woods.
Also notice that although these morels LOOKED clean when picked however there is clearly debris and even tiny bugs noticeable on the white plate – I did that on purpose to show you that ALL morel mushrooms require SOME cleaning and in my 20+ years of experienced foraging that does include at a minimal rinsing, if not a brief soak in water, again sometimes a salt soak is helpful.
4 Steps to Cleaning Morel Mushrooms
- Leave as much dirt in the woods as possible, that means taking the time to harvest with intention. Not just picking up leaves, twigs and dirt along with your mushrooms. Carefully trim the stem as to avoid adding dirt into your freshly harvested morel mushrooms. Use a soft brush to wipe away visible dirt, if desired. My mushroom foraging knife has a brush built into its handle for convenience.
- Cut each mushroom in half lengthwise. I know. I sincerely love the tiny perfect smaller morels (like pictured above) but trust me when I tell you that it’s highly likely that there are bugs hiding inside your morels. Have I skipped this step and use whole small mushrooms? Yes but when I do, I always do a salt water soak to get those bugs out (I only do this for the best of the best when I NEED a perfect morel for plating a dish aesthetically) See the photo below, you can see the tiny bugs in the cone-shaped cap as well as the hollow stem.
- Rinse and/or Soak your Morel mushrooms, depending on how dirty or clean they are when picked. For very clean morels rinsing with running water and wiping out any bugs or dirt that do not automatically release on their own may be sufficient. However in most cases it’s best to give them a quick swirl in cool or cold water to get out as much dirt as possible. IF your morels are extra buggy adding a tablespoon of salt to the water will help to remove the bugs by making the water less than ideal for them, they will fall out and sink to the bottom of your salty water. If using salt water, rinse with clean cool water then drain.
- Using a salad spinner to dry your morel mushrooms throughly. Much like delicate greens and lettuce, a salad spinner helps to remove dirt and debris without damaging the delicate mushroom flesh. If you don’t have a salad spinner, you can pat dry your clean, fresh morels with paper towels.
The Best Way to Store Morel Mushrooms
Storing morel mushrooms isn’t difficult, but to make sure they last as long as possible you need to follow a few guidelines. Never store morel mushrooms in a sealed plastic bag, sealed freezer bag, nor an airtight container they need air flow and not sealed up.
You can choose to store your mushrooms after picked while still “dirty” or after cleaned – we’ve done both however we prefer to clean ours first so that they are ready to go straight onto the stove when we are going to cook them.
The Best Way to store Morel Mushrooms is in a produce container like THESE from Rubbermaid or THESE from OXO, I’ve kept fresh, clean morels (and basically every other mushroom we forage) in our fridge in excellent condition for a shelf life of WEEKS in the refrigerator. This is also how we store fresh picked and cleaned Wild Ramps for up to a month.
If you have morels now and don’t have time to purchase produce storage containers there are a few other proper storage options; (1) keep them in the salad spinner after drying and the water has been dumped out (2) placed in a brown paper bag or (3) in an open bowl or colander with a paper towel on-top. A sealed bag allows bacterial growth in the moisture content that’s trapped, which destroys mushrooms. Morels won’t last as long as in the produce container specifically designed for the perfect balance of moisture and air flow, but these will hacks work for a few days.
In conclusion, the short season morel mushrooms aren’t anything to be intimidated by. If they are dirty, clean them, if they aren’t dirty you are very very lucky! Uncooked morels don’t have a best method for cleaning and storage for every situation but at the end of the day you just need to do your very best.
If you happened to pick more morels that you can eat before they go bad, that’s when it’s time to learn how to preserve morel mushrooms for long term storage, which I’ll be sharing in my next morel-post on How to Preserve Morels for future use. I’ll be giving you all the details on air drying uncooked morels, freeze drying raw morels, dehydrating morels, freezing morels and more info on how to store morels!