2007_10_matsutake.jpgNot making their way to the greenmarket this week are domestic matsutake, one of the most prized mushrooms in the world. Matsutake have a slight pine flavor and give off a wild, funky cinnamon aroma when cooked. This fragrance is said to do things to people, like instantly transport them to Xanadu or make choruses of ladybugs hail from the sky in intense, Busby Berkeley style formations. Hand foraged and scarce, matsutake are in fact like truffles, with whom they share a peak season and some frequent flyer miles: Just as a good number of Italian truffles are gussied up and shipped off the New York market each fall, most Pacific Northwest matsutake are flown overnight to Japan after collection, where the best ones are so expensive it’s not even funny. For the time being, and at least on the East Coast, matsutake are most likely to be found in restaurants.

On his current tasting menu, Doug Psaltis of Country serves a mix of steamed and raw shaved matsutake with almond porridge and a proverbial hint of lime. Broth made from the mushrooms is poured tableside over the dish. At Chanterelle, David Waltuck serves olive oil poached sea trout with matsutake and butternut squash. Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns pairs “Cape Cod” matsutake and other varieties (including black chanterelles) with pork belly and celtuse.

If you do happen to come into some matsutake, approach with caution and very few extraneous ingredients: flash sear a few plain, unseasoned mushrooms (sliced or whole) in a very hot pan with no butter or oil. Remove from heat and wait a second of two. Add a little water or dashi, a small bit of butter, and a drop or two of good quality soy sauce. Cover your pan with a lid to save that aroma for chow time, and make chow time immediately. Other cooking tips can be found here.

You can also try your luck, needle/haystack style, by taking a forager’s walk with the NY Mycological Society, or just simply admire matsutake among 500,000 mushrooms- both poisonous and palate friendly- at the New York Botanical Garden’s collection, the second largest fungus herbarium on this side of the world. There’s also this slideshow of matsutake hunters that appeared as an online accompaniment to an August New Yorker article.