©Matthew J. L. Kilger
Cleaning Morels (and other mushrooms)
Many people think that cleaning Morels (and other species of fungi) involves a long soak in salted water.
Realistically, such action is not needed. It has detrimental effects on the texture and flavor of the mushroom.
Having clean mushrooms does not need to involve any water, in most cases, and certainly no soaking.
So how to get clean mushrooms?
Start at the beginning
The easiest, and first step, to keeping your hard-earned prizes clean, and free of grit; bugs; dirt; humus; and everything else, is to pick clean.
What does that mean?
Simple - the less detritus that winds up in your bag/basket/bucket, the less that you'll have to clean up later.
So start when you pick them. If you pull your mushrooms up, trim off the dirt from the base of them, ideally before flipping them upside down, and then brush them off. I use an Opinel no. 8 mushroom knife, generally, so I simply use the brush, on the bottom of the handle, to brush any soil or duff off of them mushroom before putting it with the rest of my collection. If your knife is not so equipped, carry a cheap, boar-bristle paintbrush or chip brush, and use that to clean things up.
Remember that the cleaner you pick, the less work it is, later.
When you get back from the field, and return to camp/home/vehicle/wherever you plan to do the REAL cleaning, get that brush out again, and maybe a soft cloth.
Inspect each sporocarp for insect damage, soil, or hitchhikers, and use your brush and knife to evacuate any that you find. For some species, a soft dishtowel or other cloth can be really useful.
A sponge can also be a lovely cleaning tool. I have a friend who used to work in the field of building custom cases for instruments and other items that needed secure, shock-proof storage. The scrap foam from that industry is a wonderful tool for this process, as well.
Some species simply grow in gritty environments (Boletus rex-veris, I'm looking at you) and require a little more attention.
For these ones, I like to have a bowl of clean water and a sponge. A quick sponge bath will take off most of the soil, and judicious trimming removes the rest. A quick trip under the sink sprayer may even be in order, but make sure to let them drain well after.
So why not soak?
Well, there are a number of great reasons NOT to soak mushrooms.
First, it is commonly thought that they soak up a great deal of water, and in some cases, that is correct. Different species will absorb more, or less, water when soaked; however, all species will absorb some.
If you plan to dehydrate your mushrooms, that is not ideal. It simply means that it will take longer for the dehydrator to do its job. In some cases, it also means that your finished product will be poor quality, because the breakdown of tissues may make the dehydrated product very tough.
But what about bugs?
The common thought is that soaking mushrooms in salt water also helps get rid of insects and their larvae.
Let's be honest - if you've eaten mushrooms, and plan to continue to do so, you have eaten larvae and will continue to do so. There's no getting around that.
Even if your mushrooms look perfectly clean, they may still harbor eggs which can hatch into larvae, and tunnel their way through your precious fungi. You'll eat them, and you won't even notice.
As I always say, "Tiny bacons never hurt anyone."
A soak may evacuate some of those larvae and insects; but, the ones that remain will just wind up drowned and brined, thus making them less likely to evacuate on their own.
If you plan to dehydrate your mushrooms, as you slice them in preparation for that process, inspect for larvae and their tunnels. Sort insect-damaged mushrooms and dehydrate those, first (to prevent further damage, and to keep any evacuating larvae from getting mixed with your other mushrooms). The larvae generally crawl out of the mushroom as it dehydrates, and wind up dead on the floor of the dehydrator.
If you don't plan on further processing before cooking, don't even worry about it. Toss any that you feel are too insect damaged for your tastes, and cook up the rest. Any larvae just add protein.
When should I soak mushrooms?
When should you soak? Simple - when rehydrating dried mushrooms. Soak dehydrated mushrooms in lukewarm water (unless you want a tougher consistency, then soak in water that's just off the boil). Otherwise, just leave the soaking to Mother Nature. Happy hunting!