And, like Yunnan, these often are treated with a minimum of seasonings and preparation in order to turn them into wonderful dishes that are all about the character of that particular variety of mushroom.
Wood ears—a direct translation of their Chinese name—is a fairly bland fungus that smells mildly fishy when fresh and grows mainly on elder trees. Its allure, then, is not as much about its flavor as its delightful gelatinous texture.
Collected mainly in the fall, which is why the Chinese name here is literally “autumn wood ear,” it is ascribed many helpful attributes in Chinese medicine, including lowering bad cholesterol levels.
Fresh is best if you can find it, and cultivated varieties are becoming more common in markets, at least near where I live in the Bay Area. But dried ones are good, too. They can easily be rehydrated by pouring boiling water over them.
|A specialty of the Northeast|
Like dried black mushrooms, these plumped-up wood ears will not be as tender as fresh ones, and their flavor will be even a bit more subdued, but they are still very good.
Wood ears braised with green onions
Cōngshāo qīumù’ér 蔥燒秋木兒
Serves 4 to 6
Serves 4 to 6
1 medium leek (or 4 green onions), trimmed
4 cups (or so, lightly packed) fresh or completely plumped-up dehydrated wood ears
2 tablespoons oil
6 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
4 teaspoons regular soy sauce, or to taste
2 teaspoons sugar
1. Trim the dark green leaves off the leak, cut it in half through the root, and then wash between the leaves very carefully to remove all of the grit. Pat the leek dry. Cut the leek on the diagonal into thin shreds. (If using green onions, simply cut both the white and green parts into 2-inch lengths.) Carefully rinse the fresh or rehydrated wood ears and either shake or pat them dry.
2. Heat a wok over high heat until it starts to smoke, and then add the oil. Swirl it around and add all of the leek shreds or green onion. Quickly stir-fry them until they barely begin to brown, and toss in the wood ears. Stir-fry these together until the wood ears are almost cooked through. (Fresh ones will start to make little explosions when this happens.)
3. Add the rice wine, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sugar to the wood ears and toss them thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot.
Store raw wood ears like any other mushroom: without rinsing and in a paper bag, which will absorb any extra moisture and keep down both fungal invasions and rot.
Dry ones keep pretty much forever if stored in a sealed container in a dark cupboard.