Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fungus Among Us

When’s the best time to visit friends? Right after they’ve been mushroom hunting, of course! Especially if there are matsutake mushrooms involved. These lovely fungi are somewhat of a rarity and I recently had the pleasure of trying them. 

Matsutake, which literally translates from Japanese as “ear of the pine tree,” are difficult to find and highly sought after, making them a pretty pricy commodity. While the ones I tried were found in the Pacific Northwest, they are traditionally very popular in Japan and are believed to symbolize fertility, happiness, and good fortune. They are also associated with autumn and friendship. The Japanese appreciation of matsutake mushrooms extends at least as far back at 759 A.D. when it was referenced in a poem. These mushrooms were often associated with Japanese nobility, and women in the Imperial Court of Kyoto in the eleventh century were even forbidden from speaking its name. They are often prepared by simply grilling slices or adding them to miso soup.

Matustake mushrooms have a very distinct aroma that is spicy, sweet, and citrusy. Apparently, they are the only mushrooms that can be identified just by their smell. If you ever get the chance to try these baller mushrooms you definitely don’t want to pass up the opportunity. I’d never heard of, seen, or tasted matsutake mushrooms before, but I loved them and am definitely hooked—too bad they’re not more widely available. One Web site claims that “whomever eats this mushroom will not be denied its magical beauty,” and I have to agree. It was definitely a magical, beautiful experience.

We ate the mushrooms in a soup. It was all very simple—a homemade chicken broth with onions and the mushrooms sliced very thin. The flavors were earthy, salty, savory, and satisfying. To give you an idea of how delicious it was, just know that while I was eating the soup I put a spoonful in my mouth, closed my eyes, and became so focused on appreciating all the delectable umami flavors of the mushrooms that I ended up spilling the soup on my lap. Apparently I lost touch with reality for a moment. It was exactly what you want out of a soup—one that pleases the taste buds and warms the soul.

There were also chanterelles and a pig’s ear mushroom from the mushroom hunting expedition. Unfortunately the pig’s ear had bugs in it so we didn’t get to try it. The chanterelles, however, were delicious when cooked up with some eggs for breakfast.

If you have a chance to enjoy some tasty mushrooms and want to keep the mushroom theme going for the night then I highly recommend watching the ridiculous horror movie Shrooms, which is conveniently available on Netflix instant play. The movie also works well for the Halloween season! Enjoy…

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