I was taking inventory of my pantry last week and came across a package of dried Matsutake (maht-sue-tah-keh) mushrooms stuffed behind a bag of dried Shiitakes. I have no recollection of why I bought them, but they’ve been there for a while, two years at least. They hadn’t “expired” yet so I thought I’d rehydrate them and see what they tasted like. My hopes were low, and I wasn’t disappointed. They were flavorless.
This prompted me to do a little digging (sorry) on Matsutake mushrooms. I learned that these coveted Japanese mushrooms are also known as pine mushrooms due to their distinctive, “foresty” flavor. I also learned that the state I live in (Washington) has one of the mother lodes of Matsutakes, and they are hitting the markets – fresh – right now. Bingo! This was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss.
I went to my local Asian grocer, Uwajimaya, a couple of days ago and there they were in the fresh produce section, waiting for me. How lucky was that? I thought maybe I should go out and buy a lottery ticket. I know it may sound a little weird to get so excited about finding unique, fresh mushrooms in a grocery store (and fresh Morels produce the same culinary high when I can find them) , but as the old saying goes, “you either like mushrooms, or you don’t”, and I don’t like mushrooms, I LOVE them. As you would expect with foraged mushrooms, these Matsutake beauties don’t come cheap, but are so worth getting them fresh when you can. Even one or two can make a dish special.
Since Matsutakes have a meaty texture, I decided to pan roast them to intensify their woody flavor, then buttered them with Miso Butter, and tossed them in a bowl of stir-fried brown rice and some vegetables. It turned a plain and simple dish into a luxurious one.
Fresh Matsutakes aren’t around long, so get ’em now. If you can’t find them fresh (and I imagine most people will be in this position), I would advise against using the dried ones, fresh Shiitake mushrooms are an acceptable substitute, and they’re much easier to find at a well-stocked grocery store.