I’ve been getting emails about our lackluster fall mushroom season in the Pacific Northwest. Even NPR did a story on it—and they pretty much got it right. The mushrooms tried to pop right on schedule—and in some cases, such as with lobsters and white chanterelles, they succeeded—but the long dry spell in September burned much of the crop and then that first big storm in mid-October wiped it out.
Many a mushroom hunter was hoping the rain would have the immediate effect of causing a huge—if belated—flush. My hunch is that the mycelia had already formed primordia, and the deadly combo of drought followed by deluge dealt a knockout one-two punch. At this point we should be hoping for winter species like yellowfeet and hedgehogs, though I’m not optimistic.
The other day I picked a spot on the Olympic Peninsula that’s usually carpeted with mushrooms this time of year. We salvaged a few matsutake and passed by many more that had clearly suffered heat exhaustion. Yellowfeet were nowhere in evidence, and just a couple hogs had managed to fruit. A half-dozen cauliflower mushrooms saved the day, but even those showed signs of distress with obvious yellowing of the ruffles.
Still, a half-pound of #4 matsutake is all it takes to make a good meal, and there’s something sweet about using wild main ingredients from two different kingdoms. This is a dish I had once over at Idle Wylde, the home of Foraged and Found Edibles proprietor Jeremy Faber. In typical fashion, he didn’t even remember making it when I asked for the recipe. I told him it included manila clams, matsutake, and leeks. “Makes sense,” he said, “matsi and shellfish go together.” So I tried to reconstruct it from my own hazy memory banks and the result was astonishingly good. At least, that’s what Marty said, and I have to agree.
1/2 lb matsutake mushrooms (or more), sliced
1 lb littleneck clams in the shell, scrubbed
1 lb mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
2 leeks, white part only, sliced
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 cup sake
1 cup chicken stock
1 scallion, thinly sliced for garnish
1. Saute sliced leeks in peanut oil in heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, 2 minutes.
2. Add matsutake and cook together another couple minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sake and chicken stock and allow to simmer together a few minutes so the broth absorbs the singular matsi flavor.
3. Raise heat to high, add shellfish, and cover. Remove from heat when the clams and mussels have opened, careful not to overcook. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sliced scallion.
Serves 2 for dinner, or 4 as an appetizer.