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Simple fried morel mushrooms (Cristen Clark/Special to Agweek)

Hunting for and frying up morel mushrooms

When warm, damp spring weather finally arrives in Iowa, morel mushrooms start to poke through the landscape in wooded areas. This brings serious mushroom hunters out of their winter slumber to forage for the finest fungi Iowa has to offer.

I'm no mushroom hunter. I can thankfully turn to my brother-in-law Drew for that. He's got all of the special secret hunting spots; he picks, cleans and prepares them. Oh, and he's not divulging any of his secrets. He won't even tell me where he finds them, which I'm completely OK with because combing through my hair for ticks is something I can do without!

Drew Weyers picks, cleans and prepares morel mushrooms for “Morel Night.” (Cristen Clark/Special to Agweek) "Morel Night" is a religion in our family. It's a flexible holiday in which our whole family gets together, eats mushrooms and celebrates the arrival of spring. It is one of my favorite nights of the year, and if I am completely honest with you, I think my husband Mike likes it more than his own birthday. There's nothing pretentious about it. No gifts, no dressing up, no buffet line and different side dishes to coordinate. No fancy plates or silverware; just beer or soda, and mushrooms. To make the most incredible fried morel mushrooms I've canvassed the countryside to find top-secret tips!

1. Make sure the mushrooms are clean and dry before you begin breading them. Slice larger mushrooms in half or even into quarters. Store them in a zip top bag with paper towels inside to take up any additional moisture. Keep them refrigerated until frying time.

2. We like to cook the mushrooms in a mixture of oil and butter. If you only fry the breaded mushrooms in butter, the dairy solids in the butter will burn at the high temperature before your mushrooms are cooked to the intended doneness. A combination of butter and oil brings up the burning temperature of the frying liquid to ensure that your mushrooms turn out perfectly.

3. Using a cast iron skillet to fry the mushrooms is a great idea. Cast iron holds heat well and encourages even frying.

4. Don't skip the initial dredging step into the flour/cornstarch mixture. The flour clings to the slippery mushrooms so the egg wash mixture can adhere to the mushroom and not slip off. The egg wash adheres the final crunchy cracker mixture to the mushroom, so it is crucial to get that step right!

Since I'm no expert on hunting morels, all I am qualified to tell you is how to prep and cook them. Here's my simple recipe for the best fried morel mushrooms you'll ever taste.

You'll never look at wild fungus the same way again.

Simple Fried Morel Mushrooms

By: Drew Weyers and Cristen Clark

Ingredients:

1 to 2 pounds of morel mushrooms, cleaned, sliced in half or quartered

2 ½ cups all purpose flour, divided

2 ½ cups cornstarch, divided 1 teaspoon Lawry's Seasoned Salt

½ teaspoon cracked black pepper (optional)

2 eggs

¼ cup milk

One box of Chicken in a Biskit crackers OR three sleeves of saltine crackers

1 quart of vegetable oil (or other flavorless cooking oil, such as peanut, soybean etc.)

4 tablespoons butter

Kosher salt for seasoning post-frying

Instructions: Add oil (enough to fill the bottom of the pan to ¾ inches up the side) and butter to large cast iron skillet, heat to medium/medium high heat (350 degrees using an instant read thermometer). Prepare breading station on three plates: Plate #1: Add equal parts of flour (1 ½ cups) and cornstarch (1 ½ cups) to the plate, then add 1 teaspoon seasoned salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper and whisk around. Plate #2: Add 2 eggs and ¼ cup of milk, beat until incorporated Plate #3: Add 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of cornstarch and 3 to 4 cups of crushed cracker crumbs, mix around (*if saltines are particularly flavorless, add a little seasoned salt and pepper to this mixture as well.) To prepare to fry: Dip mushrooms in flour mixture on plate number one. Shake excess flour off. Dip flour/cornstarch coated mushrooms in the egg mixture. Let excess egg wash drip off. Roll mushrooms in the cracker/flour mixture. Set aside on a plate to prepare to fry. Fry in 350 degree oil for 2-3 minutes or until golden on all sides. (Frying at 350 degrees will make your mushrooms perfect!) Remove to paper towel lined plates to cool a bit. Sprinkle on a bit of kosher salt. Serve warm, with beer or soda.

*Depending on size of mushrooms, you may need to replenish various breading station plates. Have plenty of ingredients on hand! *Size of skillet will indicate the amount of oil you will need for this "shallow fry."

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