As soon as the wet late autumn steps in, my excitement for wild mushrooms grows. When I receive texts or calls from my mushroom foraging friends, I feel like a child on Christmas morning. I'm so grateful to live on the North Coast with its beautiful surroundings, great weather and so much food you can hunt or gather as an adventurous foodie. Matsutake, aka pine mushrooms, are among my favorites.
I remember a couple of years back, when my friend and I drove an hour to pick up an order of wild mushrooms from someone we met on Facebook. Due to miscommunication and lack of cellular service on the road, we had to wait anxiously on a corner of a shady parking lot for almost an hour. My friend and I laughed about it after a lady stopped and asked if we were lost. We felt like a couple of shady drug dealers once when we finally got our mushrooms from the trunk of a stranger's car.
I must thank my Japanese friend Kay, who introduced matsutake to me more than 10 years ago. The way she carefully washed and sliced them, the fragrant matsutake rice and the delicious tempura she made in our kitchen — such amazing memories these mushrooms bring up. Every year, l mail a small box to her in Florida for Thanksgiving. She always calls me immediately and tells me how she is dancing with excitement in her kitchen. Japanese matsutake are expensive in Japan (where they sometimes cost as much as $1,000 per pound), China and Korea, where as American matsutake are priced similarly to other wild mushrooms on the North Coast.
Since l introduced to some of my Asian friends to them, buying matsutake is an event for us every year. It's plentiful from November to early January. I usually stir-fry or braise them with meat, put them in soup, use them in dumpling filling and even shave them raw on salad. I also dry and freeze the extras. Touted for their health benefits, matsutake are considered one of the top mushrooms in the fungus world.
Chicken with matsutake soup is our go-to for cold days. It's simple to make with only a few ingredients. The aroma of the soup is earthy and comforting. I hope you have access to these local beauties while they are in season.
Chicken with Matsutake Soup
1 whole chicken (about 3 pounds)
15 cups water
5 slices of fresh ginger
2/3 pound fresh matsutake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
8 Chinese red dates, or jujubes, soaked for 15 minutes and rinsed
1/3 cup dried goji berries, rinsed well
Break the chicken down to 8 pieces (breasts, thighs, leg and wings), keeping the skin on and bones in. Soak them in warm water for 20 minutes to get rid of any blood, rinse well. Put in a large pot, add the 15 cups of cold water (well cover the chicken), add the ginger and bring it to a boil. Continue boiling for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 40 minutes. Skim off any fat and bits floating on top, then add the sliced matsutake mushrooms and jujubes. Return the pot to a boil and let it simmer for another 30 minutes. Skim the top of the broth again, add the goji berries and simmer for 15 minutes longer. Salt to taste. Serve alone or with steamed rice.
You can find Home Cooking with Wendy Chan (she/her) classes benefitting local charities on Facebook.
She's thankful for the community's support raising money for Jefferson Kitchen and Food for People.