Matsutake literally means “pine mushroom” (“matsu” = pine + “take” = mushroom).
Revered throughout Asia, this traditional delicacy is a particular favorite of Japanese chefs, whose preparations have been refined over centuries to make the most of its strong, spicy-clean fragrance and taste and firm, meaty texture.
While many matsutake recipes have a distinctively Asian touch, the incredible flavors of this pungent wild mushrooms are equally well-suited to Western preparations. Their magnificently spicy aroma, reminiscent of pine and cinnamon, enhances wild mushroom dishes and makes great stuffed mushrooms. Matsutake are also wonderful when done tempura-style, roasted, in braised dishes and served alongside chicken and meats.
Like most wild mushrooms, the unique flavor of the matsutake is owed to the specific conditions under which it grows – under the base of pine trees between 20 to 60 years old and never in the same place twice. They are high in protein, low in fat and rich in vitamins B1, B2, and D, and are believed to have many healthful (and purportedly aphrodisiacal) properties.
Asian chefs seem to prefer the smaller matsutakes (known as “#1” grade) that still have the caps closed. But, honestly, I think that the larger matsutakes that have large caps are just as good – and in fact, are better suited for some preparations, like the following recipe for stuffed matsutake caps.
First, carefully brush any dirt or debris from the cap & stem of each mushroom. If they are particularly dirty, give them a quick rinse in cold running water, and then allow them to drain for a few moments. Carefully remove the stem from the cap of the mushroom. Matsutake mushrooms can be very firm; take care that you do not break the mushroom apart when removing the stem. Give it a firm, but gentle twist and it should pop right off, but you can also cut it cleanly with a sharp knife if you prefer. The membrane on the outside of the stem can be a little tough, so I recommend that you remove it with a sharp vegetable peeler.
Matsutake mushroom possess a particular flavor and aroma that is both subtle and unmistakable at the same time. The best matsutake preparations enhance, rather than overpower, their delicate notes of pine, sandy earth, cinnamon and saffron. A small amount of finely chopped fresh rosemary and some whole pine nuts seemed to be just the right additions to the simple bread crumb stuffing used in this recipe. According to my friend Hank Shaw, of the notable blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, matsutake mushrooms can benefit from a little acid flavor, so I decided to use sourdough bread crumbs in addition to the more traditional Japanese panko.
Once the stems were off the matsutake, I peeled and coarsely chopped them, along with a medium-sized shallot and sauteed them together in a generous amount of unsalted butter (about 3 tablespoons). While the mushroom/shallot mixture was still cooking, I tossed in 2 tablespoons of pine nuts and the chopped rosemary. After a minute or two, I turned off the heat and added the sourdough bread crumbs and a little salt & pepper.
Meanwhile, I brushed the top side of each cap with a little beaten egg white and dipped them into panko crumbs. A wok was the perfect pan for heating a cup of canola oil to near-smoking hot – the sloped sides made it easy to maneuver the mushrooms around so all sides browned nicely. Once the panko was crisp and deep-golden in color, I drained most of the oil and flipped the caps to briefly cook the undersides, about one minute. After removing them to a baking sheet, each mushroom cap was heaped with the matsutake stem/bread crumb mixture, then slipped into the upper third of a hot (475 degree) oven for about 15 minutes.
When the top of the stuffing mixture was a toasty brown, they were ready. With a little ponzu sauce on the side, the fantastically fragrant stuffed matsutake were practically a meal in themselves.
Meanwhile, saute the chopped stems together with the shallots in 3 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and rosemary and continue to cook until the pine nuts are lightly browned. Remove from the heat and toss the mushroom/shallot mixture together with the bread crumbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to cool slightly and add any remaining panko & egg white and mix well. Generously mound 1/2 of the stuffing mixture onto each cap, pressing slightly so the stuffing adheres together.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Place the mushroom caps on a rack in the upper 1/3 of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Serve with ponzu sauce on the side.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
For even more news, information and recipes, sign up for the free Earthy Delights email newsletter.