Matsutake, which means “pine mushroom” in Japanese, isn’t among my favorite of the wild edible mushrooms, but it’s fun to forage and I enjoy preparing it in traditional Japanese recipes.
Look for matsutake under conifers in well-drained, even sandy soils. Like porcini, it can be found near the ocean beaches of the Northwest and also in the mountains, especially in areas where volcanic soils are present. Matsutake fruits in other regions of North America including the woods of Maine and Ontario.
Though the Japanese prefer the mushroom in its button stage with gills entirely covered by the veil, I find that it becomes even more aromatic as the cap begins to open.
It has a singular aroma. David Arora of Mushrooms Demystified fame refers to it as “a provocative compromise between ‘red hots’ and dirty socks.” In my opinion this spicy cinnamon-like flavor marries with Eastern culinary ingredients such as soy, rice vinegar, shaoxing wine, and so on, better than Western dairy ingredients such butter, cream, and cheese.
Probably my favorite preparation is Matsutake Sukiyaki. Gohan is another way to showcase this unique tasting mushroom. But if you want to experience the flavor in the most dressed down way, try grilling it. Slice the mushroom and grill over low to medium heat until light golden. It should be slightly crispy on the outside with a moist, meaty inside. A dipping sauce of equal portions soy sauce and rice vinegar completes this simple and flavorful dish.