It was Spring 2016 at The Salt Cellar. The restaurant was slow and the outlook was grim. Even so, I tried to stay focused on keeping things as seasonal as possible, changing the menu to engage the cooks and help keep morale up. When morel season came around, I knew I couldn’t afford to buy any, but I did have some at home, so I did an experiment.
My experiment was based around one question: can I purchase dried morels and incorporate them into a morel focused dish and not break the bank, i.e. keep a decent food cost?
Fresh morels will probably come in around 20$/lb, or much more depending on who you’re dealing with. The price can be volatile. Dried morels on the other hand are very price stable, because their availability is reliant upon harvests in burn areas and other spots of natural black morels, typically on the West Coast. I’ve never seen typical gold/grey morels for sale through wholesale purveyors. Dried morels come in right around 250$lb, or roughly 15.63$/oz or 48 cents/gram.
When the powers that be look at my purchases each week, large numbers over a hundred dollars had better be a box of expensive beef, duck, bison, or maybe some spendy chocolate for the pastry team. By comparison, for 300$ I can get enough bison to run an entree for an entire week. If I’m going to bring in some fun stuff, I have to know how to make the numbers work, because at the end of the day it’s not about what I want to serve, it’s about the restaurant numbers being healthy.
Fortunately I’ve been through enough rough spots to know how to squeeze money out of a dish. Soup can have a high profit margin, much more than an expensive steak or piece of fish, so that’s where I started tinkering with a recipe that could work.
To sum things up, here’s the recipe I developed. In order to get a solid morel flavor, I ended up using about 3 ounces in the finished batch, which yields about a gallon, with a cost of morels coming out to about 35$/batch, with other ingredients probably around 10$ on the high side for a total of 45/gallon of soup, which is very expensive for a gallon of soup, but, they’re morels, after all.
If I sell 4 ounce ladles of the soup for 10/portion, that’s a total of 320$ net profit from one batch, and our food cost equation, assuming we’re shooting for 30% (a standard for decent restaurants) will look something like this:
45$cost/320$ net profit =.140625
That’s roughly 14% food cost or C.O.G.S/cost of goods sold
In the end, the soup is within workable margins by a long shot, we could even adjust the price down and still have some wiggle room to account for waste. Fortunately at home you don’t have to worry about food cost or pleasing who you report to. If you’re a mushroom hunter, you might just need to use up some dried morels you’ve been hanging on to before the next season. My advice is: Invite some friends over for some morel bisque.
Dried Morel Mushroom Bisque
Yield: About one 1/2 gallon
- 1 cups dry sherry
- 1/2 gallon (2qts) high quality chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 1.5 ounces dried morel mushrooms
- 1.5 cups diced sweet yellow onion
- 1.5 cups diced leek, tender white and green parts only
- 1 cup diced celery
- 4 ounces unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup uncooked white rice
- Kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper, to taste
- 1.5 cups heavy cream, or more to taste if you like
- Fresh cut chives
- Combine the chicken stock and dried morels and allow the mushrooms to re-hydrate, the longer they sit in the stock, the more flavor will diffuse, so in a perfect world infuse it over night in the refrigerator. Agitate the mushrooms to remove any grit, then remove, strain the stock through a fine strainer or chinois and reserve the mushrooms and stock separately. If your morels are very large, chop them coarsely, If they’re very small, you could halve them or put them in whole, use your best judgement.
- Melt the butter in a non-reactive stockpot and sweat the leeks, onion, celery and rice. Add the sherry and cook off the alcohol. Add the morel infused chicken stock and bring to a simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender and the rice is cooked.
- Puree the mixture in a high-speed blender, then pass through a chinois strainer and add the cream. Season the soup with salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste, then transfer to a labeled, dated container and refrigerate until needed.
- To serve, heat up the soup, whisking occasionally. Lightly sweat the dried morels in a knob of butter for a few minutes, then divide them between soup bowls. Ladle in the soup, garnish with fresh cut chives and serve immediately.