Maitake gohan

photo by Pauline Fujita

As someone living in California I have no right to complain about winter vegetables. My local farmer’s market runs year round and supplies me with fresh kale and squash at a time when my northern neighbors are stuck shoveling snow. That said, I confess it was a welcome change of pace to turn my attention to mushrooms.

This past weekend marked the 37th annual Santa Cruz Fungus Fair put on by the local mycophile society, the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz. Among the hundreds of locally foraged and displayed species were many mushrooms commonly used in Japanese cooking such as matsutake (pine mushroom) and the lesser known maitake (hen-of-the-woods). The fair was wonderfully educational and culinarily dangerous: I got to learn about mushroom hunting and growing, but I also ended up purchasing four kinds of mushrooms (wild black trumpets, hedgehogs and yellow foot chanterelles, and cultivated maitake) and a shiitake mini-mushroom farm (maybe just the right garden for my brown thumb?).

Growing up I’d always heard matsutake talked about in hushed tones for its value and flavor, but maitake is a mushroom I’ve only just recently discovered. Celebrating my Asian frugality I thought the significantly cheaper (though still pretty pricey) maitake might make a decent “poor man’s matsutake gohan (rice)”. OK, so the two mushrooms are nothing alike. But I will say this, the maitake made a lovely mushroom rice (recipe below). Unlike most Japanese mushroom rice recipes, I went light on the soy sauce in an attempt to let the mushrooms dominate. I also used a 50/50 mix of  Japanese short-grain regular/mochi[short-grain glutinous] rice to give the dish a chewier consistency (and you thought I was done talking about mochi!).

Moving forward I plan to specify equipment and patience requirements with all recipes. Partly to assuage my OCD but mostly in preparation for recipes that might require fancier gear or higher tolerance for more steps (think tsukemono). But for now a one-pot meal that, barring a little prep the night before, practically cooks itself. Cranking up Yoko Kanno’s “Mushroom Hunting” doesn’t hurt either.

photo by Pauline Fujita

Maitake and Bunapi Shimeji mushroom gohan

1 C mochi (short grain glutinous) rice
1 C short grain rice
2 TBSP dried hijiki (seaweed)
1 pouch aburaage (deep fried tofu) diced into small pieces
2 fist-sized clusters of maitake (hen-of-the-woods) mushrooms
1 very loosely packed cup of buna shimeji or bunapi shimeji mushrooms (white or brown beech mushrooms)
1 TBSP shiro goma (white sesame seeds) to taste/garnish
1 TBSP kuro goma (black sesame seeds) to taste/garnish
2 cups water
¼ tsp kombu dashi (japanese kelp broth)
2 TBSP mirin (japanese sweet cooking wine)
1 TBSP shoyu (soy sauce)
1 TBSP cooking sherry

equipment: rice cooker
patience level: grade school

Soak mochi rice overnight in enough water to cover by at least an inch (rice will expand). The next day drain mochi rice and set aside. Wash and drain short grain (regular) rice, and mix with mochi rice and place in rice cooker. Put hijiki in a bowl of water and set aside. (It will rehydrate and increase in size two to three times.)

Dice mushrooms so each piece is similar in size to that of the age (tofu pouches). I like 1cm pieces personally, but you might like bigger mushroom and tofu chunks. A personal preference entirely. Add mushrooms and age to rice and mix.

Heat 1 cup of the water, and dissolve dashi (the water doesn’t have to boil, it just has to be warm enough to dissolve the dashi). Remove from heat and add shoyu (soy sauce), mirin (sweet cooking wine) and sherry. Mix in additional cup of cold water, and set aside. Hijiki should be ready – drain, rinse and mix into rice then pour in dashi mixture. Turn on the rice cooker, and begin salivating. When the rice is done you will probably have to mix it a little to get everything evenly distributed. Toss in the sesame seeds, and serve!

About Pauline Fujita

Pauline Fujita lives in Santa Cruz, California. A biologist by trade and a glutton at heart, she's especially interested in Japanese and Japanese influenced food.

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