You'd have much better luck finding morel mushrooms in the forests of the Pacific Northwest but at the end of April, you'll start seeing them come from Indiana and Michigan too. We found one local chef who uses them any way he can in the spring.
Morels can be messy. But these odd-shaped mushrooms pack a ton of flavor. At the newly-renovated Lockwood, inside the legendary Palmer House in the Loop, morels make frequent appearances on the menu.
"They're a little earthy, they're a little sweet; they're a little - I don't want to say barnyard - but they're a little dirty, in a good way," said Joseph Rose, the chef at Lockwood.
Rose first trims the morels with a paring knife then dunks them in cold water, washing them thoroughly since they can hide dirt. They're strained, dried and ready to go.
Butter is browned in a hot skillet; the morels are added and sautéed for a minute or two, drawing out the excess moisture. Chicken stock and sherry are all he needs to finish them.
"Butter, chicken stock and a little bit of sherry. The sherry brings out the sweetness in the mushrooms," Rose said.
A thick filet of Skuna Bay salmon is placed over a pool of spring pea puree; more peas, pearl onions and fresh ginger are added, along with the cooked morels, which add an earthy intensity to the dish. A few radishes provide necessary crunch, with some springtime miner's lettuce.
"This is the only time of year you can get 'em, so you just try to put them in there, match them with other seasonal items. Like for me, I'm using them right now with peas, put 'em with salmon," said Rose.
Palmer House Hilton
17 E. Monroe St.