from the depth of the pine forest,
the voice of the hawk.
For a unique flavor, try the matsutake. This heavy white or
brown meaty delight has a thick cottonlike partial veil. The surface
is smooth and dry, the stem short and broad. With age, the cap and
stem develop rusty stains where bruised. But it is the odor that
identifies this mushroom. It is very spicy and clean, like no other
foodstuff. Japanese chefs treasure this delicacy, and their
preparations reveal how to bring out its strong fragrance and
Matsutake means "pine mushroom." It grows most abundantly along
the coast of the state of Washington, where enough is found to permit
commercial exportation for sale in Asian markets at high prices. It
can also be found in Canada, Oregon, Idaho, and Northern California.
It was formerly known as Armillaria ponderosa.
In Japan, another mushroom, Armillaria matsutake, is collected
wild and sold for extravagant prices in marketplaces, where it is
beautifully arranged for sale in plastic-covered containers decorated
with green leaves. It does not look like T. magnivelare. The cap
is dark brown, scaled, and bell-shaped, and perches atop a massive
round stem that looks
like the cut section of a ripe sugar-cane stalk. The few people I've
met who have tried it say its taste resembles T. magnivelare. Both
are prepared the same way.
In Japan and Okinawa, this treasured delicacy is threatened
with extinction. The pine forests which are needed for its growth are
being decimated by nematodes which attack the roothairs of the trees.
Studies are being vigorously conducted to determine how to control
When shopping for matsutakes, select firm intact mushrooms in
prime condition. They should have a decidedly spicy odor. A
somewhat rusty discoloration is to be expected.
Remove any soil with water, sparing the underside from
soaking. The top and stem are smooth and easily cleaned with a
mushroom brush. The bottom of the stem is usually impregnated with
soil. Trim and discard.
Try marinating matsutakes for 10 minutes in soy sauce, dry
sherry or sugar, and good-quality bland oil. Then roast them on a
grill until golden brown and serve alongside a main course.
Matsutakes will do wonders for chicken broth and stir-fried dishes.
Cut both stem and cap in small pieces, as this mushroom is firm and
chewy. It has a magnificent penetrating unique flavor not like
anything else: spicy, but not peppery.
When making rice, quickly lift the lid of the cooking pot and
throw in a handful of matsutake bits. Replace the lid to allow the
rice and mushrooms to harmonize inside the pot. This elevates a
bland grain to ethereal heights.
Matsutakes blend well with chicken or fish. Even when frozen
for a whole year, they retain most of their original zesty flavor.
Fresh or frozen mushrooms may be used interchangeably in all recipes.
Slice or dice for freezing. Our Japanese friends wrap whole
mushrooms in aluminum foil, then place them carefully in plastic bags
prior to freezing.
The flavor of matsutakes suffers when subjected to drying,
although they may still add interest to culinary dishes.
Serves 4 as an appetizer
Pickled matsutakes can be used as a relish with almost any food.
- 1 pound matsutakes, cut into 3/8-inch slices
- 4 green onions, minced
- 3 tablespoons dry sherry
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat an oven broiler and broil the mushrooms until brown.
Combine all the other ingredients in a small saucepan and boil for 5
minutes. Cool. Place the mushooms in a glass or ceramic baking
dish, pour the liquid over, and store in the refrigerator at least 1
day before serving.
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
In Japanese, gomoku means rice prepared with five different foods.
Nori is a nutritious sea vegetable that is available in natural food
stores and Asian markets.
- 3 tablespoons sake
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 large single chicken breast, skinned, boned, and diced
- 1/4 pound matsutakes, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced bamboo shoots
- 1 large carrot, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
- 1 cup short-grain rice
- 1 small strip nori
Place the sake, soy sauce, sugar, and water in a saucepan. Add
the chicken and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes or until the chicken is
tender. Add the mushrooms and bamboo shoots, and cook a few more
minutes. Gently steam the carrots and peas together for 3 minutes.
To cook the rice, in a saucepan rinse the rice two or three
times. Measure the amount of water to add to the rice by placing
your middle finger on the bottom of the pan and adding water to
the first finger joint. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Immediately
after the rice is cooked (before it starts to steam), add the chicken
and its cooking liquid, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, steamed carrots,
and peas. Cover the rice and continue to steam for about 10 to 15
minutes. Just before serving, mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon.
Toast the nori over an open flame with a fork until it becomes
green and crisp. Let cool, then crush it in your hand and sprinkle
it over the rice and serve.
ALTERNATE MUSHROOM: Shiitake
Serves 4 to 5 as a side dish
A dish of simple ingredients but elegant and complex flavors.
Preparation requires low heat and a long cooking time.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Two 3 inch-diameter matsutakes, cut into julienne strips
- 1 head cabbage, cored and cut into 8 wedges
- 2 tablespoons water
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a sauté pan or skillet and
add the matsutake strips. Be sure to coat the strips with butter.
If not well coated, add more butter. Cover and cook over low heat,
stirring occasionally, until golden brown. This should take about 20
to 30 minutes.
While this is cooking, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter with the
water in another sauté pan or skillet and add the cabbage. Cover and
simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes.
Serve the cabbage topped with the matsutake strips.
Ling Cod with Matsutakes
Serves 4 as a main course
Steamed fish, vegetables, and the spicy matsutake mushroom combine
to make a healthy, low-calorie dish. Serve over white or brown rice.
- 4 thick fillets of ling cod or other white fish, scored with a knife
- 4 green onions, sliced
- One 1/8-inch-thick slice fresh ginger, peeled and shredded
- 1/4 pound snow peas
- 1/2 pound broccoli, cut into florets
- 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
- 1/2 pound matsutakes, cut into matchstick-sized pieces
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- Salt and pepper
- Tamari or soy sauce
- Lemon wedges
Place the fish in a cooking pot that fits into a steamer. Top
with the onions, ginger, vegetables, mushrooms, sherry, and salt
and pepper to taste. Steam over boiling water for 20 minutes, or
until the fish is flaky and tender. Serve with tamari sauce and lemon
ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Shiitake