Matsutake steam baked in sake 松茸の酒蒸し焼き

japanese cake

Certain mushrooms are highly prized among gourmands. For the French, it is truffles. For the Japanese, it is matsutake 松 茸 . Japanese domestic matsutake is very scarce since it only grows in pine forests which are apparently disappearing from the Japanese countryside.  I learned that Chinese and Korean matsutakes are more common in the Japanese market nowadays. Here in North America, we can get North American or Mexican matsutake. The latter is more expensive since the shape is more similar to the Japanese domestic variety. The flavor, mostly smell, is very subtle but distinctive. Last week, when we were at Tako Grill, we had this season’s first matsutake, grilled or “yaki matsutake” 焼き松茸,  which prompted me to look into ordering our own supply of matsutake.

We used get matsutake (either North American or Mexican) from a Japanese mail order house but they charge an arm and leg. So this year, I did a web search, found a company in Oregon called “Oregon mushroom, LLC” and decided to give their product a try. This (left upper in the image below) is 1 lb of matsutake, which was sent to us overnight by FedEx and arrived in good condition. It is not too expensive (relatively speaking) at $28/lb but it took almost the same amount of money for the overnight delivery. The matsutake was quite fragrant–more so than what we received previous years from other places. The lovely, characteristically earthy smell wafted out the minute we opened the box. The Matsutake was also quite dirty when it arrived as you can see. Washing it in water is not recommended. I used a moist paper towel and gently rubbed the surface to remove as much of the dirt as I could. I then used a sharp paring knife and sliced off the very bottom, then removed the surface of the bottom end as if I were sharpening a pencil (lots of sands attached). I also removed any embedded dirt and sand (I would rather sacrifice a bit of the mushroom than bite into dirt and sand–something we experienced at some restaurants in the past.) The upper right in the image below is after this cleaning process.

Since this was a weekday night and we did not have the time or energy to grill matsutake on a charcoal fire, I decided to steam-bake it in an aluminum foil pouch. I first cut into the stem end of the cleaned matsutake and then tore off pieces by hand. I repeated this process until I got reasonably sized pieces (lower left in the above image). I then placed these in a square pouch I made from aluminum foil. I sprinkled sake over the mushrooms and let it be absorbed by the matsutake for a few minutes. I added light-colored or usukuchi shouyu 薄口醤油 (1 tsp) and closed the pouch with enough air space so the steam could rise as it cooks. I placed the pouch in a 500F toaster oven for 5-7 minutes. I did not want to overcook the mushrooms. When the pouch was opened (lower right in the image above), a heavenly earthy aroma of matsutake filled the air. The smell immediately evoked the image of colored leaves and the cool weather of fall.  I served the matsutake with the juice accumulated in the bottom of the pouch as a sauce. I added a bit more salt and some lime juice. This has such a subtle and delicate flavor but we have to have it at least once a year because it wouldn’t be autumn if we didn’t smell it and taste it. You need cold sake with this.

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