The other weekend I went hiking in Marin County. It’s been pretty dry the last couple weeks, so I was expecting a beautiful hike and lots of waterfalls but I did not have my hopes up for good mushrooms. Much to my joyful surprise, I found tons of mushroom diversity on the hike and I even found the prized Matsutake for the first time. Matsutake is very popular in Japanese cuisine, and apparently the Japanese Matsutake can fetch as much as $100 per mushroom. The American version typically sells for significantly less at $20-35/lb, but still, it’s a pricey mushroom. So when Patrick looked down and saw a big whitish mushroom sticking out from under the huckleberry bushes and asked me what it was, I was super excited when the revelation of what exactly I was holding onto dawned on me.
Matsutake goes by multiple scientific names but going into the vagaries of scientific naming conventions is beyond the scope of this blog. Suffice it to say that it is a white mushroom that tends to stain brown on the stem, has a very thick white ring around the stem called an annulus, and has a very distinctive smell. David Arora describes the “unique spicy odor” as a “provocative compromise between ‘red hots’ and dirty socks” in Mushrooms Demystified. My friend Melina says it smells like “jock strap and cinnamon red hots.” I personally have always thought of it as smelling like an old gym, so the thought of eating it never particularly appealed to me. However, given that so many people love it so much and are willing to pay $$, I was very intrigued to try it when I finally found one of my own.
Since it is a very special mushroom with a distinctive smell and flavor, you can’t just sauté it in butter or olive oil and add it to anything like you can with a chanterelle or porcini. I found some great tips and recipes on “Cooking the Magnificent Matsutake” from the forager and blogger extraordinaire Hank Shaw. However, the recipe that I ultimately decided to go with came from my friend and fellow mycology PhD student Roo, who suggested that I make a Matsutake pizza. There were definitely times when the mushroom was in the sauté pan with the garlic, and I smelled garlic with an undertone of funk; I was a bit scared of what I was getting myself into. I must say though, Roo was quite right about his recipe. The Matsutake pizza was delicious!
The recipe is quite simple. Start with a homemade dough and sprinkle with olive oil. Then, add the sautéed mushrooms with a bit of onion and garlic, and a sprinkle of good quality mozzarella. Bake in the oven at highest heat for 5-10 minutes, then top with good parmesan after it is cooked.
I’ve never made pizza before, so I found this simple pizza dough recipe online, and enlisted help from my friends. Since I was a bit afraid that I would not enjoy the Matsutake and its particular ‘funk’, we also made a classic margherita and a vegetarian pizza.
The first step of course was to clean off the dirt from the Matsutakes, then to cut them up and sauté them.
Mushrooms cleaned and sliced in the sauté pan:
I let the Matsutakes sit in the sauté pan for a long time. We rolled out the dough and made the first two pizzas while they cooked. Eventually, I added several cloves of garlic to add some flavor.
Once the mushrooms were browned, Max rolled out the dough onto a baking sheet. Unfortunately, I do not have a pizza stone, so a baking sheet had to do. Be careful to sprinkle flower to the pan before adding the dough.
Next, we sprinkled with olive oil and added the sautéd Matsutakes with some onions and garlic:
After that, we added some mozzarella balls to the pizza:
We baked it in my oven at 500 degrees F for approximately 7 minutes.
Here are my friends patiently sitting at the table with the cooked Margherita and vegetarian pizza, looking stoked to sample the pizza buffet:
And the pièce de résistance, the Matsutake pizza!
Thanks friends for helping me bake and eat all of this delicious pizza!
Here is a plate loaded up with salad and all 3 pizzas:
Despite my trepidation at the funky smell, the Matsutake pizza was my favorite in the end. The funky flavor comes through more strongly when the mushroom is not thoroughly cooked, but the well-cooked sautéed mushrooms permeate a delicious flavor without being too funky. Perhaps one day, I will get to the point where I am all about that funk and want to use the Matsutake mushrooms raw. For now, though, cooking them in a pizza was the perfect entryway to this mushroom. Thanks, Roo!