While ramps may be spring’s bellwether, asparagus its most versatile bounty, and strawberries its hedonistic delight, morel mushrooms are the season’s precious jewels. I’m not really a mushroomy-kind of guy, but when these beautiful and deliciously earthy guys come around each year, I use them for as long as I can before my wife eventually says, “Morels, again?”
When I first got the Eleven Madison Park the Next Chapter cookbook upon release, I immediately began to read it cover-to-cover. Since the book, logically, begins with the spring season, this morel custard recipe was one of the first ones I saw. I couldn’t wait to make it, but since it was still early autumn, I had to wait out an entire New York winter first. Those MF’ers last forever.
When the snow finally melted and the Canada Goose was stored away, I ordered Morels from Fresh Direct and got to work on this fascinating dish. One interesting thing to note is that several of its subrecipies call for the use of dry sherry wine (Fino). Fino sherry shares many characteristics with a type of oxidized Spanish wine called Vin Jaune. This wine, which is hard to find and very expensive, pairs naturally with Morels — you might even say they go together like PB&J. So, that begs the question: why does EMP opt for fino sherry rather than Vin Jaune in this recipe? While the obvious answer is that the former is much less expensive, EMP is never one spare an expense— just look at the copious amounts of caviar, truffles, and other expensive ingredients they use. If I ever run into Daniel Humm on the street, maybe I’ll suggest he change the recipe 😉
The first thing I needed to do was pick up the fish eggs that’s used to garnish the dish. While the recipe calls for trout roe, I actually prefer salmon roe. I paid a visit to Lobster Place, the city’s best fish market, to pick up a tin. While there, I successfully avoided temptation to buy any of the other beautiful products on display and fought through the tourist traffic to make my way home. Every time I come to Chelsea Market, I am bewildered. It’s basically a small mall with a few good specialty grocers and food vendors, but, yet, tourists flock from all over the world. I have nothing against tourists, per se, but when they’re at Chelsea market, they seem to walk even slower than usual, stopping to take photos in front of things that aren’t remotely landmarks or interesting in any way. Maybe I’m a jaded New Yorker, but as soon I set foot in the place, I want to get out of there as quickly as possible.
Once home, I began to make the mushroom stock, which involved grinding down a variety of mushrooms in a food processor and then steeping them in water. That very fragrant stock was then used to make the morel ragout, another fairly straightforward process, which consisted of cooking down some morels with sherry and shallots.
Then it was on to the custard base, which would eventually be part of the morel custard. These steps required constant attention, but were not necessarily complicated. Many recipes in this book — such as this one — call for a combi oven (steam oven). So, when our toaster oven broke down shortly after the the book’s release, I used it as an opportunity to buy one with steam. The feature isn’t completely necessary here, though, as I’m sure this dish could just as effectively be made in a regular oven using a water bath.
The herb broth was the one component that required ingredients I didn’t already have. White soy is something I’ve seen in a couple recipes, but I usually just substitute regular soy. There is a slight variation in taste between regular and white soy, but the usual purpose of the later is to impart the taste of soy sauce without its color. Kudzu starch was another perplexing ingredient. I eventually found the starch, which apparently has better thickening qualities than cornstarch without leaving behind any trace of flavour, at Kalustyans.
Once the ramekins were out of the oven, I let them set for a bit before garnishing. I didn’t use the basil blooms, mustard flowers, or peppercress that the book calls for. Those items are not readily available, especially this early in the spring. But, since the dish came out great, when I make this again next year, I will go all out and make the plate look at beautiful and fussy as possible.