Autumn is here and it is time for the glorious taste of matsutake mushrooms!
This vibrant mushroom, also called the “pine mushroom”, is traditionally gathered in September in forests where undisturbed red pines grow in Japan, Korea and the Pacific Northwest. It’s a rare and wonderful fungus, whose flavor is so prized it is used as a main ingredient in Japanese dishes.
The matsutake has a meaty stem, with a light brown cap when fully grown. Prized, tender, young matsutake are paler and smaller in size and are found in the duff at the base of red pine trees, forming subtle bumps called ‘mushrumps’. Because the mushrooms are picked wild and usually eaten before the cap spreads open, devoted gatherers wipe them clean with a damp cloth, trim them closely so as to retain the most woody, aromatic flavor possible, and celebrate their bounty by cooking them in the open air, grilled or delicately sautéed. Two fabulous traditional recipes are Matsutake Gohan, a seasoned rice dish made with wild matsutake, shoyu, mirin, sake and mitsuba, as well as Matsutake Dobin Mushi, a soup made with matsutake, gingko nuts, mitsuba, thin slices of chicken, shrimp and dashi broth, all steamed together in a small teapot.
Because of its short harvest season, cooking with matsutake can be expensive. Last autumn, wild-harvested Japanese matsutake sold for approximately $500 per pound. Prices are significantly lower for US-grown matsutake, but these mushrooms are still considered the most expensive in the world, even beating out wild-harvested French truffles. In the US, fresh matsutake can be found at Japanese and other Asian grocery markets and gourmet food stores, or can be ordered online from various specialty retailers. When shopping for matsutake, it’s best to purchase fresh ones, as the mushrooms are by tradition not dried. Canned matsutake have become available, although they remain a poor substitute for the truly delicious newly-harvested ones.
Have you tasted this wonderful delicacy? Tell us about your favorite matsutake experience!