In Season: October - Matsutake Mushrooms


matsutake-001.jpgMatsutake Mushrooms

In rough times like these with the economy falling down around our knees and election weeks away, we all need to find some silver linings to revitalize our souls – at least temporarily.  For me that means going to the Portland Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings and making a beeline for Roger the Mushroom Man. Living in the Pacific Northwest, America’s mushroom breadbasket affords me a wide (and wild) variety of shrooms.

But none are better – or more expensive – than the matsutake – tricholoma magnivelar for you science-heads. This meaty, spicy cinnamon, earthly flavored delight is harvested in the Cascade Mountains. Most of them are shipped off to Japan where the best ones – those with a tight cap – go for over a grand a pound. Roger sells them for $36 dollars a pound; but being an über-honest dude, sells the ones which have been invaded by worms for $12. While I am not offended by the taste of worms – in fact I have had a few that were quite pleasing to my palate – I do not like digging them out of my matsutakes.

In preparing matustakes the one thing to remember is that they must be regarded as the belle of the ball. They require only minimal culinary manipulation. Some people like to salt and pepper them with a brush of butter or olive oil or just a few brushes of soy and mirin and grill them; others stir fry them in olive oil and salt and pepper. A delicious traditional Japanese preparation is having them in chawan mushi – a heavenly light steamed egg concoction.

matsutake-004.jpgMy personal favorite is the method I understand Japanese mushroom hunters use (though this is just based on hearsay) – the shrooms are sliced thinly and boiled in water with salt and pepper. After 3-5 minutes of boiling throw in parsley or cilantro and a dash of sake. Then serve. Only the simplest accompaniments are called for - thin slices of chicken breast  sautéed in soy, mirin and a dash of sansho pepper powder, a small serving of steamed spinach or red chard (with a squeeze of lemon and dash of light soy sauce) and a bowl of brown rice.

This is the perfect fall meal.