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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Grilled Matsutake Mushrooms

Matsutake are one of the prized finds of mushroom hunters. This very illusive fungus is one of Japan's autumn culinary treasures, these costly mushrooms find their into many recipes.
The first time i had the fortune to enjoy these mushrooms was while hiking through the woods, in early November, north of Nikko, heading to an onsen. A group of older Japanese people were excitedly filling bags with something they were scavenging. As this was only my second time in Japan, i had no idea what they were gathering. One woman approached us and offered my friend and i a small bag and opened it. My friend was very excited and i stupidly asked, "shitake desu ka", wondering if these were some kind of wild shitake. I was quickly offered a simple demonstration that these piney aromatic mushrooms were a delicacy and up to 100 dollars a pound and here we had 2-3 pounds being offered. I was also taught the difference between the high quality, small, closed matsutake and the larger ones where the head opens up. Not much longer in the day, after coming out of the hot springs, some of those mushrooms were cleaned up, split in half lengthwise and grilled over coals. After they were cooked, they were brushed with shoyu and drizzled with yuzu. How simple of a preparation is that? Yet, how delightful of a dish. Truly one of the great mushroom dishes in the world. And perhaps the easiest to prepare!
Since that wonderful hike, onsen and meals, i had the fortune to eat matsutake in a few different preparations in Japan. And now in the US, matsutake are being harvested in Oregon and Northern California! Fortunately, i know a few mushroom foragers and of course the farmers markets and Berkeley Bowl, Nijiya Market, Monterey Market also know many foragers and carry exceptional wild mushrooms on the right day. The American ones are certainly not the same as they lack the very powerful pine aroma yet they are still very tasty.
I have prepared matsutake many ways, some complex, some simple. However, the most traditional manner of preparing these, grilled over coals or wood and brushed with shoyu (yuzu optional) is by far, the ideal way to eat this beautiful mushroom.

There have been attempts to cultivate these in Japan but so far, not very successful. With such a high price tag, mushroom growers would very happily produce some yet, if it becomes possible, it will be at the expense of flavor, aroma and texture. So far, in Northern California, this year has not been a good matsutake harvest. Hugh, Will, if you are reading this and are finding any yet, please call. I am happy to add a fifth course to Saturday's dinner/concert.

shoyu is one of the traditional styles of Japanese soy sauce. Use only naturally brewed with no added sugars, alcohols or preservatives.
Yuzu is one of the greatest pieces of citrus; a Japanese lime


  1. Phil,
    I first ran across Matsutake In the mid 1970s when I lived in Oregon (though I didn't know them by that name back then). I had a favorite hike in camping spot along the coast; the mushrooms fruited in the late fall beneath coastal pines in the first stable dunes inland from the breakers. The ones I would pick and roast on the fire with fish I caught were very spicy (almost cinnamon sharp)... I guess I'll have to head for Monterey Market and try to recapture the memory. Thanks

    Ted Groszkiewicz

  2. Matsutake gohan (pilaf) is something that gets me salivating!

  3. I just picked up about 20 lbs of Matsutake (in 3 hours) at Northern California forest yesteray. They are huge, thick and great. The biggest one is about 6.5" in diameter (average size is about 4"). Since I got too many, I will try your receipt to grill them over coals with shoyu. Anyway, I think this year is a pretty good season for Matsutake.

  4. if you want to sell 5 pounds of those tonight and you are in the east bay, drop me a line, please

  5. it's been a pretty good season for matsutake so far. i was out in the woods recently and picked about 5 pounds in a couple of hours. i like to slice them very thin (1/16-1/8") and mix with a combo of shoyu, lime juice, a little sugar (or use mirin and skip the sugar), sliced ginger and scallions. seal tightly in foil (lined with parchment paper if you're worried about the foil reacting with the vinegar). bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. prepare for aroma explosion when you open the packet. you can also cook them in the microwave for a minute or two in a bowl covered in microwave-safe plastic wrap with 3 or 4 tiny holes punched in it. even though a little steam will escape during nuking, you'll still get the blast of matsutake aroma when you remove the covering.

    i eat the cooked matsutake as is, or add to soba. matsutake wa oishii desune!