It seems that everyone is checking out for the summer. People are on vacation and no one is reading blog posts. I get it. I get that. If I didn’t feel the compulsion to document my summer activities and my summer recipes (because OCD), I’d go dark over here until Octoberish. I’ll admit I often wonder if I stopped blogging throughout the summer, would I ever pick it up again in the fall? But hey, I probably use my recipe archives more than anyone, so I keep growing it for me and hence, for you. Besides, how else could you experience Neva’s progression from a crazy bad dog to a crazy good dog?
neva enjoying her first paddle of the season (and staying on the board)
a storm cell lets loose over fourteeners in the distance
After spending the past several weeks witnessing reports of spring morel flushes starting in the southern US and spreading north along the East Coast and into the Midwest, and the West Coast reports chiming in throughout, we in the Rocky Mountains have begun to see our flushes. Of course, our morels are going gangbusters after the harvest is nothing more than a memory for the rest of the country, but our time is NOW. I only started foraging black morels (the kind that grow in the Colorado high country) last spring when I found them near Crested Butte by accident. Searching similar environments back home on the Colorado Front Range yielded two very separate and very lonely specimens in 2016.
When you are just starting out on your own, it’s hard to know if you aren’t finding mushrooms because it’s a bad year or they don’t grow there or you’re looking in the wrong environment or because you suck at foraging that kind of mushroom. But now I am into my second season, so I can add the dimension of time to my morel data. Yes, they came up again in Crested Butte, but better than that – Jeremy and I found a motherlode on the Front Range based on what we know about morel environments and what we scoped out last fall. Countless hours and miles of reconnaissance, tracking snowpack and precipitation history, studying satellite imagery and topographic maps have paid off because SCIENCE WORKS!
a little party of morels (4 in the picture, but 12 total)
a pretty nice haul
My foraging buddy, Erin, has also been on the prowl for black morels on the Front Range since last spring with an even worse record than my two mushrooms. She found one. We email one another about mushroom hunting in the dead of winter, contemplating places to check when the snows finally recede. We research, document, study, archive, search for, and have lengthy discussions about mushrooms. Erin and I had a foraging date set for the morning after Jeremy and I found the motherlode, but we hadn’t decided on where to go because we didn’t know where the morels were at the time. I don’t give away my mushroom spots to anyone except for Jeremy (natch) and Erin. Erin is my partner in foraging crime. We are both afflicted with this extremely nerdy obsession/sickness and we happen to be damn good hawkeye foragers. It was time for a Righteous and Proper Mountain Girls’ Foray, so I took her to the magical kingdom of morels. Biggest haul ever! [We left our pups at home because the environment would have made Banjo unhappy and I’m pretty sure high-energy Neva would have crushed every single morel underfoot, twice over, before we could even get eyes on them.]
erin harvests a morel
and that’s just her share – what a happy girl
When you spend seven hours crawling through the woods giving yourselves eyestrain headaches and experiencing highs and lows (finding and not finding morels) like a drug addict, it’s inevitable to talk about a whole host of topics, including your plans for the morels. My early haul morels are almost always slated for recipes that I want to test and shoot for the blog. Once I meet that quota, the rest will be sautéed in butter and stored in the freezer for winter or dried for various projects. Today’s recipe came about because my neighbors’ teenage son gave me two whole pheasant breasts from a hunting trip last fall as a thank you for a career brainstorming session with me and Jeremy. Game birds pair nicely with wild mushrooms, and now I had both!
morels, bacon, salt, pepper, brandy, egg, puff pastry, shallots, water, cream, butter, pheasant breasts
I decided the recipe would have to involve diced pheasant meat because all but one of the breasts had been torn through with pellets. Pheasant and morels served in puff pastry? Yes! How about some bacon? Yes! And some cream and a splash of brandy? Aw, hell yes! After several hours of walking cross country through the mountains in a Tai Chi-esque semi-lunge looking for morels, I don’t feel like making puff pastry from scratch when I get home. These morels don’t clean themselves and these recipes most certainly don’t make and photograph themselves. It’s okay to use store-bought puff pastry, as long as it is good puff pastry. Vols au vent are basically little baskets of buttery, flaky puff pastry deliciousness with space to hold even more deliciousness of your choice. It’s like an edible cup with all the calories you’ll need for the week.
cut out the bases and rings of the vols au vent
dock the bases
brush with egg wash
layer the rings and brush the tops with egg wash
I’m fairly certain you can purchase pre-made vols au vent in the freezer section at some grocery stores. I prefer to make my own because the pre-made ones leave a weird hydrogenated oil film on my mouth, which I cannot stand. Proper puff pastry made with real butter has a limited shelf life and costs more, but it’s totally worth it. Another reason to make your own vols au vent is that most of the ones in the store are canapé size – smallish. I like to make bigger ones for dinner. My only gripe about the pre-made dough is that it shears a little when you roll it flat and as a result, doesn’t bake into perfect circles like it would if I had made my own pastry dough. But most people don’t make these to be photographed. Most people make these to stuff into their pie holes.
set a silpat or sheet of foil on top (for even rise)
bake until puffy and golden
The vols au vent can be made up to a day ahead. If you are entertaining, this takes some of the last minute pressure off. Actually, the filling can also be made ahead and gently reheated before serving, so this might be a great make ahead appetizer or entrée if you are into high payoff for moderate effort and a little planning. I realize that planning ahead for some folks is akin to cutting off their right hand. I no longer press the issue when I spend time with non-planners. I just smile and pretend to enjoy myself while everything around us goes to hell in a hand basket. It’s a slightly less stressful route than fretting over lack of planning while everything around us goes to hell in a hand basket.
Now you can use any wild edible (key word is EDIBLE) mushroom in this recipe, but right now, I have fresh morels. Morels are the only mushrooms I willingly wash in water as opposed to wiping clean with a damp paper towel or a mushroom brush. If I foraged the morels myself, I simply swish each one in cold water several times to dislodge debris from those little pits and then fill the hollow with water and shake the water out. For caked on mud or dirt, I will run cold water over the spot and gently rub it with my finger or pick out debris from the pits with a toothpick. You have to be careful when manhandling morels as their ridges are brittle and quite fragile. When the morel is clean, I cup my hand and fingers around the mushroom like a cage and gently shake out any excess water. Then I lay it on kitchen towels or paper towels to dry for as much as an hour or two. Store-bought morels are a different matter. I find those can and usually do contain worms, so I slice them in half lengthwise and then clean them. If they are too wormed out, I chuck those mushrooms into the most morel-friendly habitat in my yard in the hope that they will someday fruit.
slice the morels
prepped: pheasant, morels, shallots, bacon
While I only use one sauté pan for the filling, it does require cooking each ingredient separately. But you only have one pan to wash! I dry fry my morels to extract most of the water and have it boil off before searing them in butter. Since I cook on stainless steel (because I like the sear), the morels do stick as the liquid boils off. Most will eventually release from the pan, but if there are a few stubborn ones, a quick scrape from a sharp, thin metal spatula should get it right off. Don’t worry – all of the flavorful browned bits on the pan will be incorporated into the filling one way or another.
fry the bacon
cook the pheasant in a little of the bacon grease
when done, remove the pheasant from the pan
dry fry the morels
boil off all the liquid
Now we’re ready to make the filling using that same pan because you don’t want to throw out all of the delectable residue from the bacon, pheasant, and morels. Sauté the shallots in a little butter until soft, then add another pat of butter and the morels. This is when I try to get a little sear on the morels. Next, the pheasant and bacon and brandy are stirred in. If you don’t want to use alcohol, I think you could substitute with chicken broth, roast chicken broth, or pheasant broth. But that brandy adds such a nice flavor. After the liquid is almost simmered off, stir in the cream and let it simmer for a couple of minutes to thicken. Then season with salt and pepper.
fired up and ready to go
add butter and the morels to the sautéed shallots
stir in the pheasant, bacon, and brandy
when the brandy is almost boiled off, add the cream
simmer until the cream thickens a little
When the filling is done, spoon it into the vols au vent and let the sauce spill over the sides because creamy sauce and flaky puff pastry is a match made in heaven. I don’t recall having had pheasant before, but this meat was so sweet and flavorful that I don’t think I can ever look at chicken breasts the same way again. It did remind me of grouse, another favorite wild game bird which would also be amazing in this recipe. We made sure to send some over to our neighbors who originally gave us the pheasant – a sort of thank you for the thank you gift – and they loved it (okay, the son doesn’t like mushrooms which meant the father happily got double morels). And while fresh wild morels and wild pheasant may not necessarily be easy to come by, you can certainly make this with other edible mushrooms and other fowl or game. This recipe is so good it makes me contemplate getting a hunting license and training my CRAZY Neva to be a bird dog! Okay, maybe just the first part.
plated with asparagus and butter-seared morels
gifts from the land
Pheasant and Morel Vol au Vent
vol au vent
1 lb. puff pastry dough (here is a good scratch puff pastry dough recipe)
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp water
4 oz. bacon, medium dice
12 oz. pheasant breast, medium dice
6 oz. fresh morel or other wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thick
2 tbsps unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup brandy
1 cup heavy cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make the vols au vent: Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out the puff pastry dough to about 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Refrigerate for 10 minutes. Using a 3-inch diameter circular cutter, cut out as many circles as you can, making sure to cut straight down without twisting (this can press the layers together and prevent rising). Use a 1 1/2-inch diameter cutter to cut a centered hole in half of the dough discs – again, no twisting. Evenly distribute the solid discs on the baking sheet and dock (poke several holes into) each one with a fork, taking care not to poke all the way through the dough. Mix the egg yolk and water together. Brush the discs with the egg wash and top each disc with a dough ring, aligning the edges. Brush the tops of the rings with egg wash and make sure you don’t let the egg wash drip over the sides (it could prevent rising). Refrigerate for 10 minutes. Place a silpat or sheet of foil on top of the pastries (to encourage even rising) and bake for 10-15 minutes until the rings have risen and turned golden. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and remove the silpat or foil from the pastries. Bake until golden, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
Make the filling: Fry the bacon in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat until crisp. Remove the cooked bacon to a bowl and drain off all of the bacon grease except for 2 tablespoons. Turn the heat to medium high and add the pheasant to the pan. Sear the meat until almost cooked. Remove the pheasant and any juices to the same bowl as the bacon. Keep the heat on medium high and add the morels. Dry fry the morels until they give up their water. Let the water boil off. Flip the pieces when they stop sticking to the pan and let the other side dry fry for a minute. Remove the mushrooms to a different bowl. Drop a tablespoon of butter in the pan and add the shallots. Sauté over medium high heat until soft. Add the second tablespoon of butter and the morels. Sear the morels. Stir the bacon, pheasant, and brandy into the pan. Let the brandy simmer off until a tablespoon of liquid remains. Pour in the cream and reduce the heat to medium. Let come to a simmer and cook for a few minutes until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
Assemble: Fill each vol au vent with hot pheasant and morel filling. Make sure to drizzle some of the cream sauce over each pastry. Makes 8 3-inch vols au vent.
more goodness from the use real butter archives
|fried morel mushrooms
|morel asparagus prosciutto lemon pasta
|morel bourbon cream sauce
|seared duck breast with huckleberry gastrique