When we think of how to cook mushrooms, generally the thought process is they should be cooked through, then you proceed with whatever dish you’re making. Rarely, there might be some special wild mushrooms you can eat raw, like porcini, Amanita caesarea, or my little matsutake here, if any of them aren’t horribly bug riddled, that is. What we don’t think of though, is anything in between.
I was up north last week picking matsutake in Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and, as I hunted, walking through the red pines, the strange, siren-song odor of the mushrooms pushing me forward, I was reminded of how Magnus Nilson and his staff sampled their first matsutake when they showed up in Sweden.
I distinctly remember him saying that they cooked the mushroom so that it was raw on the inside. At the time I thought it was a little strange, but now I understand. Gently warming up, or taking the cool off of most foods can heighten aromas, and wake them up. I knew I loved matsutake mushrooms raw, so it followed from there if I had a nice big one, I could definitely eat it medium-rare, too.
I took the nicest, most even matsutake I could find, seared it for a minute on each side, let it rest for a minute to give off juice (just like meat) then I ate it with a couple different tastes, for fun. It might seem silly, or too precious to eat at home, but it isn’t. Yes, this is absolutely something you might get on a really expensive tasting menu: a perfect mushroom picked at the most prime stage for eating, cooked simply, but it’s also easy to make.
Eating food like this is all about honoring your ingredients, and most people will never know something as fresh as the matsutake you pick from the ground. This is a way to enjoy the purity of the matsutake flavor, a way you might cook the most perfect one you have to share with someone after a hunt.
What’s it taste like? Well, just as completely cooked matsutake are more mellow than they smell in the field, and completely raw matsutake are aggressive and will take over your sinuses, eating them partially cooked is a little something in between, more mild than raw, but more aggressively scented than completely cooked. They’re very good, just make sure you have the crunchy salt handy. Here’s a description of the process.
Whole Matsutake, Medium-Rare
- Whole, perfect matsutake mushrooms, 1-2 oz each
- Small amount of cooking oil
garnishes here's a few ideas, pick and choose a couple:
- Raw shaved scallions
- A small ramekin of soy or ponzu
- Fresh herbs like cilantro or Vietnamese coriander (rau ram)
- Flavorful oils like walnut or sesame
- Finishing salt such as maldon
- Choose large, straight matsutake mushrooms that will cook evenly.
- Heat a pan or grill with some of the oil until very hot, then cook the matsutake for 30 seconds on each side.
- Remove the mushrooms to a towel to weep some water, then put them on the plate with a couple garnishes.
- Cut a slice off the mushroom like a piece of meat, and make different bites with the garnishes, noticing how the flavor changes with each.