You don't have to wait for the rainy season anymore to enjoy Yunnan's earthy treasures. Pauline D. Loh provides a newbie's primer to the mushrooms and fungi of her home province.
The perfume of mushrooms intensifies when they are dried. Every chef worth his truffles knows that, and in Yunnan, the bouquet of aromas from the exotic fungi is enough to bring tears of joy to the eyes of the said chef. Truffles, chanterelles, the elegant matsutake, porcini, morels ... all the world's finest are found here, and there are even a few that Western kitchens may not have yet discovered. There is one, in particular, the huge but equally strongly aromatic mushroom the locals call the tiger's paw - it definitely deserves more attention.
In the Beijing and Shanghai markets, fresh mushrooms like the more common button and Swiss browns are easily available. Bundles of enoki, punnets of both white and brown honjimeishi and piles of freshly harvested shiitake are also common every season.
These days, flash-frozen truffles, chanterelles, porcini and morels offer chefs year-round convenience if they want a little mushroom to liven up their menus. And now, the same mushrooms, sliced and subjected to a new process that uses dehydration, can be easily bought and stored.
All they need is careful hydration, and they lose none of their aromatic attraction.
You can also buy them online, and they arrive in vacuum tight bags that are, in turn, packed into hermetically sealed glass jars protected by layers of bubble wrap.
These new products are being snatched up by top restaurants in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, where the Cantonese chefs are finding creative new uses for the cornucopia of mushrooms.
In Kunming itself, new restaurants more aware of the recent trend toward healthy, eco-friendly eating are using these earthy delights as the main attractions. One example is a restaurant in the World Expo Garden, where the chef has worked his entire menu around Yunnan's organic produce, of which the mushrooms are an important part.
There was one dish at the restaurant that stood out, and it used a pairing of morels with prawns, and a simply stir-fried pile of tiger's paw mushrooms. The platter was just full of the earthy aroma of morels and mushrooms. It was unforgettable.
Here are some tips on how to rehydrate your mushrooms to their best effect, and I have also attached a few simple recipes for you to enjoy the fragrance of these natural miracles best.
Recipe | Clams in truffle sauce
Ingredients (serves 4 to 6):
50 g dried black truffles
1 punnet brown honjimeishi mushrooms
1 kg large clams
1 whole garlic, skinned and chopped
2 red chili, thinly sliced
1 small sprig rosemary or 2 sprigs thyme
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Place the dried truffle slices in the cup of white wine. Set aside until needed.
2. Wash the clams several times and discard any that are open.
3. Heat up some oil in a deep skillet or frying pan and add the chopped garlic. When the garlic is just beginning to color, add the chili.
4. When both garlic and chili are releasing their aromas, add the clams and shake to coat evenly. Cover the pan for about three minutes.
5. Add the cup of white wine and truffles and shake the pan so the clams cook evenly. Cover for about five minutes and turn down the fire to medium.
6. When you see the clams popping open, they are done. Season according to taste and add the sprigs of fresh herbs just before serving.
7. Scoop up the clams on to a deep platter and pour over the pan juices. Serve with fresh crusty bread for dipping into the delicious juices.
The truffles add that touch of luxury to a common seafood dish. If you like, you can cook up some spaghetti and pour the clams over for a Vongole dish with a difference. The truffles make it a dish you can proudly serve your guests, or a dish you can pamper your family with.
Recipe | Matustake mushroom rice
Ingredients (serves 4 to 6):
50 g dried matsutake (pine) mushrooms
1 cup warm water
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup basmati or jasmine (Thai) rice
1. Soak the matsutake in warm water. When the mushrooms are rehydrated, squeeze them dry and carefully add the warm water to the cup of chicken stock, making sure any grit at the bottom of the cup is discarded.
2. Wash the rice, drain well and place in a rice-cooker.
3. Add the chicken stock to the pot and spread the mushrooms out on top of the rice. Cook the rice.
4. When the rice is cooked, fluff it up to distribute the mushrooms evenly. Season to taste and serve hot.
This is based largely on a Japanese recipe.
In autumn, when the mushrooms are in season, Japanese chefs prepare a full banquet using the aromatic matsutake mushrooms - grilled, cooked with fish, in soup, or like our recipe here, in rice.
Recipe | Mushrooms & Scrambled eggs
Ingredients (serves 2):
50 g dried chanterelles or porcini mushrooms
2 tablespoons cream
Salt and pepper
1. Soak the chanterelles or porcini mushrooms in warm water for about 10 minutes to rehydrate them. Slice them thinly and squeeze dry.
2. Heat up a generous spoonful of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the sliced mushrooms and allow them to infuse the oil, about 5 minutes on a low flame.
3. When the mushrooms are slightly crisp, remove them and drain. Set aside.
4. Beat the eggs with a fork and season with salt, pepper and add the cream.
5. Add the well-beaten eggs to the pan and turn down the flame really low. As the egg sets, bring the cooked edges to the center and repeat that action until there is no more liquid. When the eggs still look moist, turn off the flame and allow the eggs to cook on the residual heat.
6. Plate the scrambled eggs, and top with the fried mushrooms. Serve with bacon or ham, and a small salad or avocado half.
This is breakfast fit for a king of the castle, or mistress of the house. The scrambled eggs should always be slowly cooked on a low flame to retain their silky texture. The infused mushroom oil will lift the flavor of the eggs to new heights.
The above news content from China Daily.