Matsutake New Year

Perhaps an acquired taste, but for me, the matsutake–or pine mushroom–rice is a nostalgic dish I crave. Some describe the distinctive scent of raw a matsutake as “cinnamon red hots through a dirty sweatsock,” which isn’t far from the truth, but once cooked the aroma is piney and fresh, not unlike a Christmas tree. That’s three generations (my mom, Skyla and me) with a gorgeous matsutake to go with traditional Japanese New Year’s feast.

My grandmother made matsutake rice, my Mom makes it, and now I do too. Soon, I’m pretty sure my kids will make it. It’s simple, delicious, and a special treat. I use water from rehydrating shiitake mushrooms for a hit of umami, Japanese short-grain rice, a bit of rice vinegar, salt and sugar, and fresh-chopped matsutake. And I always try to make more than we’ll eat in one meal, because it’s even better the next day as onigiri rice balls.

This year, as the the rice cooked, the aroma reminded me of the last time I made it for my late friend Bruce up in BC. We were fishing and staying in The Shack up on the Kispiox. Bruce loved matsutake rice. A fishing buddy came by with a single big matsutake and we talked all day about how good the rice would taste. When I started cooking, I discovered the mushroom was riddled with maggots. Bruce and our friend Yvon said “make it anyway,” so I did, and we ended up eating the whole batch that night. Miss that guy a ton. But it seemed a fitting way to end the year we lost him, and kick off 2018 on a good note. Happy New Year, everyone. I think it’s going to be a good one.

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