Sunday, October 24, 2010

HM:Magic Mushrooms

It's an autumn ritual. An elderly Japanese-Canadian couple slip into the restaurant via the back hallway. The gentleman glances around nervously, his wife stationed protectively at his side. They sidle up to the sushi bar and catch Masato's attention. "Matsutake" he whispers, and a small brown paper bag is passed over the counter. Masato's eyes widen. He nods knowingly, peeks into the crumpled bag and takes a whiff. "Ah... Matsutake!"

The undisputed King of the Japanese Royal Fungi Family is the pine mushroom or "Matsutake". "Matsu" means pine, and "take" is mushroom. Another well known Japanese mushroom is the "Shiitake". But none are as prized as the first growth Matsutake that come into season in the Fall. Top quality first growth Japanese Matsutake can fetch up to $2000/kilo. on that side of the Pacific!

Few people realize that they grow right here in B.C. Given the prices they fetch, most of them are exported to Asia. Matsutake have a symbiotic relationship with live pine trees, wrapping their roots around the roots of the tree so the two species can exchange nutrients. This makes them pretty much impossible to cultivate and they must be harvested from the wild.

Harvesting is the easy part, finding them can be nearly impossible. Hidden under layers of decaying leaves, you could easily miss a matsutake mushroom patch. The locations of good patches are carefully guarded secrets. If you are fortunate enough to receive a gift of local Matsutake, don't even think about asking where they came from! We've tried eveything from free sushi to bottomless mugs of sake and still no luck...

So what's all the fuss about? The taste is of course earthy, but one can taste the pine and also a hint of cinnamon. Matsutake are very fragrant and the scent of a Matsutake grilling over charcol is unforgettable. Often Matsutake are served thinly sliced in soup or a steamed savoury egg custard called "Chawamushi". These dishes are usually presented in a small covered dish or teapot so that the aroma is concentrated and can be enjoyed before a guest eats.

"Nabemono" or Japanese hot pots are another excellent way to prepare Matsutake. Less is more, and a few mushrooms can add a whole lot of flavour to a dish. Like portobello mushrooms, they have a meaty texture that holds up well when they are grilled. Served hot with a little ponzu sauce (citrus soy) you'll think you've died and gone to heaven. Matsutake Gohan (rice) involves cooking rice with the mushrooms, stock and other seasonings. The distinct aroma of the Matsutake perfumes the rice and infuses it with fabulous fungi flavour! More info on seasonal ingredients and some new recipes we are working on for our winter menu coming soon... Drop down to visit us and meet Chef Koji! He joined our Sanbiki team a few weeks ago and has been giving us new ideas while learning the "Way of Sanbiki". He and his family relocated from Banff where he previously worked. His wife Naoko and son Yuto are becoming familiar with our great city. Welcome to Kamloops!!
Thanks to fogindex,panduh,shopboy and kariek for flikr photos!

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