Ever heard of one of the most expensive and extravagant ingredients that grows in the wild? No, not the apricot-hued stigma of a flower, Saffron. We're talking about the fruiting body of a fungus, which grows in the absolute wild; Morels, fondly known amongst the locals in Kashmir as 'Kanngitch' or Gucchi.
Like caviars speak of the luxury in French dining, Morels signify the lush status of the Himalayas. These are served in Pulavs or on their own in gravies like Yakhni or Roganjosh. The soft, spongy mushroom is a symbol of social status when served at weddings.
A stunning fact about Morels is that they can't be cultivated by human hands because the only means to grow these is a moist cold climate in dense forests of the Himalayas, mostly in Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Morels grow in the wild under oaks, pines and other coniferous trees. Morels are also termed as 'the herald of summer' by many chefs and cooks as these grow in the spring season. These are foraged by the locals who start early morning and keep searching till the evening. It is this effort which goes into collecting Morels and the natural production which makes them the most expensive fungus in the world. The price ranges from ₹20,000 to 40,000 per Kg.
Gucchi Pulao infused with saffron at Matamaal Restaurant, Gurgaon
Fresh Morels are available in the month of March, April and May and later, in the dried form. The honeycomb pits and ridges on the cap and hollow inside are the features which distinguish this fungus from others. These are available in different sizes and colours, varying from black, brown and yellow to cream. The texture is soft and delicate with a hint of meaty-ness.
The odour and flavour of Morels is simple and well-defined. Morels have a taste of their own - woodsy, nutty, earthy and umami. The aroma whereas, can't be penned down or narrated. With lots of health benefits like being anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and high in Vitamin D, these find a place in traditional Kashmiri recipes and medicines prescribed by Hakims in earlier times.
Mrs. Nalini Moti Sadhu, the Chef/Curator at Matamaal Restaurants, shoulders the responsibility to present the gold that grows in the Himalayan foothills to the world. These rare mushrooms make perfect for a dish which is revolutionary for every Kashmiri and life changing for every diner at Matamaal Restaurant.