- Tricholoma Magnivelare
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 individual flavor.
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 this infestation.
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.
Cleaning: 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.
Cooking: 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.
Preserving: 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.