Prolonging the shelf life of morel mushrooms demands proper cleaning before and after you refrigerate the mushrooms. The morel’s tall, cone-shaped cap is marked by countless pits and ridges, giving it an unmistakable honeycomblike appearance. The mushroom’s unique features require cooks to be vigilant about cleaning it properly to avoid compromising its freshness and food safety. The cleaning and storage techniques that benefit the morel mushroom are not difficult to execute, but they require thoughtful timing to preserve the rich, meaty flavor that makes the mushroom such a culinary delight.


Selection

Examine morels to avoid mushrooms that are already past their prime. Inspect the morels’ cream-colored stems for blemishes. They should be springy, firm and well hydrated, but not wet. Examine the caps for dents or broken areas — physical damage can introduce contaminants. Morel caps may be cream, golden, dark brown or black, but the coloring should always be uniform. Avoid mushrooms that are shriveled or slimy.


Cleaning: Round 1

Brush the stems and caps of fresh morels with a dry mushroom brush or toothbrush that is only used for food preparation. Remove any visible dirt. There may be tiny bugs hiding in the crevices of the caps. Handle the mushrooms gently to avoid breaking the caps. Angle the bristles into the pits to remove visible debris.


To Rinse or Not to Rinse?

Most cooks advise against rinsing mushrooms before refrigerating them because residual moisture hastens deterioration. But the lingering threat of dirt or bugs trapped in the intricate morel caps concerns some cooks more than the damage moisture can cause. Dry mushrooms carefully and thoroughly if you choose to rinse them under cool running water before refrigerating them. Pat the mushrooms gently with a paper towel and air-dry them before storage.


Paper or Plastic?

Refrigerate fresh mushrooms in a brown paper bag. Plastic traps moisture, which causes the mushrooms to become slimy. Plan to use the morels within three days. They may stay fresh up to 10 days if you handle and store them properly.


Cleaning: Round 2

Rinse morels under cool running water immediately before cooking them. Dissolve 5 teaspoons of salt in 2 quarts of water to prepare a 2-percent saltwater brine. Soak the mushrooms in the brine for about 10 minutes to eliminate any bugs that may still be hiding in the nooks of the morel caps. Drain and rinse the mushrooms.


Freezing Morels

Freeze the morels if you are unable to cook them before they start to deteriorate. Freezing raw morels is acceptable, but sauteing or roasting them before freezing usually yields better results. Pack mushrooms in a container without damaging the caps or stems. Leave a half-inch of head space in the container. Freeze raw or cooked mushrooms up to one year.


Cook to Thaw

Mushrooms may become mushy if you thaw them gradually, especially if you freeze them before cooking them. Transfer frozen morels directly from the freezer to a preheated pan with butter or olive oil in it to simultaneously cook and thaw the mushrooms. This method helps preserve the spongy texture of fresh morels.