Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Matsutake Kaiseki

When a friend of ours passed us a batch of freshly picked Matsutake mushrooms from Yunnan, I decided to turn that into a feast of mushrooms for six people, Iron-chef style. 

While it’s often said that the cost of Matsutake mushrooms from Japan could get as high as those of the Piedmont white truffles, the ones from Yunnan, arguably the Chinese capital of mushrooms, are more reasonably priced but still considered a delicacy these days, especially during their peak season which ran from late August til November. The slight delay in transportation because of the typhoon earlier during the week meant the mushrooms reached this side of the world late and off its peak quality, but they were still good, with most caps stayed unopened and of decent size (some as big as 5-6 inches tall), both indications that the mushrooms were picked at its prime. 

Took me a while to clean and brush, and given I was racing against time to have them turned into proper dishes to serve, I prepared something simple and cheated a little. Those ready-made dashi packets from Kayanoya, a century-old Kyushu food purveyor, were always my go-to items in the cabinet when I was too lazy to make my own stock. Even better nowadays I could replenish those from a local supermarket. 

I ended up preparing a 5-course dinner that roughly followed the serving order of a kaiseki meal. I began with the Taikawase course with a piece of Togan (winter melon) and slices of Matsutake Mushrooms steamed in mushroom dashi and served with minced pork, deep-fried shallots and the dashi slightly thickened. I wanted to start with these layers of ingredients in progressing richness level with a bit of variations in textures. 

The second course was a simple one, with the thicker slices of Matsutake mushrooms sautéed in butter and seasoned with lime, charcoal salt and maqao, the Taiwanese mountain pepper. Just let the pure fragrance and earthy flavor of the mushrooms speak for itself. Our friend graced us with a slab of the excellent Hanging Tender from Snake River Farms of the United States, and I thought it would just be perfect to turn that into the main course. With top-quality meat such as this one really didn’t need much other than salt and pepper to season and leave that on the red-hot grilling pan on top of the stove. And in this course the Matsutake mushrooms took on the supporting role with its unique aroma and a hint of smokiness from the cooking on the grill net. 

The Shokuji (the final few savory courses to wrap up a proper meal) was no-brainer. I saved some of the dashi made with the ready pack plus the bits and ends of the Matsutake mushrooms and added to the rice, which was cooked in the cast-iron pot into Kamameshi. Just when the rice was done, I added the Matsutake mushrooms to be gently steamed in the remaining heat and served with mitsuba leaves (Japanese wild parsley). The herb with the clean flavor and mild aroma worked perfectly well to accompany the earthy fragrance from the lightly cooked mushrooms. Suimono course was of course clear soup made of traditional dashi with mushrooms which were poached in the soup and garnished with the stalks of mitsuba. And how convenient I also got Japanese pickled cucumber and daikon handy to serve with the rice and soup. 

Thought hard about using Matsutake mushrooms for dessert as well but at the end I gave up. We started with Japanese grapes and musk melon from our friends (they were the sweetest I have tried!) and I also made a simple dessert with Taiwanese Aiyu Jelly (made with seeds of an indigenous fruits which turned water into jelly form like agar), candied winter melon plus Okinawa kuromitsu syrup. Good way to use up the leftover pieces of winter melon from our first course into something perfectly suitable for summer. 

Haven’t been cooking seriously for a while and it felt good to be back in the kitchen. Plus it’s great to be meeting friends over meal finally after months of getting stuck at home (and to use some of my own ceramics to serve)

When? July 22 2020
Where? Kitchen at 17A
Menu Highlights? Grilled Snake River Farms Hanging Tender with Matsutake Mushrooms
Henri Giraud Hommage a Francois Hemart Brut NV
2013 Casanova di Nero Tenuta Nuova Brunello di Montalcino
Emishiki Sensation Junmai Red Label 2019-20
(笑四季 Sensation 純米 朱ラベル 火入れ生酒 - 滋賀県笑四季酒造)

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