Friday, November 13, 2009


This one has been on the back burner for a couple weeks as Matsutake (Pine Mushroom, Trichloma magnivelare) season came and went. These mushrooms are seriously big business in Japan, where they can fetch ridiculous prices. A single good mushroom there can run upwards of $30, and I saw them for sale here at Uwajimaya last week for $50 a pound. Fortunately, we can forage them. Or at least someone can. I didn't find any this year... In the NW they grow under Doug Firs, and the other various pines and firs we have in our conifer forests. I also think they like the volcanic soil more near St. Helens or Rainier and we didn't hunt there this year.

But at least I had the chance to purchase a few from Foraged and Found at the Farmer's Market in mid-October. And such a deal, the grade A matsis (meaning the veil was still fully intact) were $25 a pound and the grade B (just fine, but due to damaged veils less aesthetically pleasing, apparently) were only $15. So I picked up three B's.

The first hurdle is cleaning them. The tops can be brushed off, but the base is thoroughly crustified with dirt and must be trimmed. Then you can slice them to your heart's content. Many people prefer to tear them by hand, arguing that the uneven cuts increase the dissemination of their flavor into whatever you are cooking.

And these guys are potent. Just smell: pine and cinnamon, and yes, maybe a hint of feet. They are usually sold separately, not just because of their price, but because one is usually enough to flavor most dishes. So here are two dishes I made with these three mushrooms.

Matsutake Gohan

This is a traditional Japanese use for the mushroom. It's basically steamed rice, infused with the matsi aromas and flavor while the rice cooks. There are a couple recipes online, and Lang Cook made one last year. So I started here.
  • Wash 2 cups of short-grain rice in the pot of a rice cooker a couple times until the water runs clear. Then add 2 cups water and let sit a half hour.
  • I added a packet of kokumotsu (15 grain type). It's a collection of grains and beans that comes in little packets you add before steaming the rice to make it more interesting and nutritious.
  • Add a diced carrot, a shredded matsi, and 4 T soy sauce and 4 T sake, and let 'er rip.
  • When cooked, mix everything up and let it sit a bit then serve.
The Pros: this dish is fast, pretty cheap, a one-pot cleanup, and easy.

The Cons: it's kind of meh. It needs something. The matsutake is there, but it's very subtle, and I'm not sure whether it's supposed to be more pronounced (use two mushrooms?) or whether it's just an instance of Japanese tastes being a bit more subtle than my jaded and burned-out pallet. I had planned on adding some dashi (bonito-flake and seaweed stock) but I lazed out and I now think it needs it. I went simple on this seemingly simple dish, but next time dashi is going in for certain. And frankly, shiitakes would work just fine in this dish, and they are whole lot cheaper.

Matsutakes with Clams and Leeks

From Christina Choi's excellent 2009 Wild Foods Calendar.
is how matsutakes are done!
  • 4 T butter
  • 1 leek, white and light green part, split, cleaned, sliced 1/4".
  • 1/2 lb Matsutakes (I used my remaining two, maybe 1/3 lb.)
  • 2 lbs clams, I got some Penn Cove Manillas.
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 Lemon
Sauteed leek in the butter with a bit of salt until softened. Added matsis and cooked a few more minutes. Heat to full, clams in, water in, stir and cover. Turn to simmer when water boils, steam until clams are open. Add a squeeze of lemon and serve.

The matsutake flavor is subtle, but goes very well with the oceany clams. Also, the matsis and clams have nearly the same texture, which is kindof interesting. Big fan. Serve with bread to soak up the delicious clam/matsutake broth!

Poking around in my copy of Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen I noticed that he has a recipe for a matsutake broth, Matsutake Dashi, that I might try next year. Otherwise these guys are being filed under "Good, but $50 good? Nope."


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