And hello to all my new subscribers to the blog. I suspect many of you have joined because of my experiments with all-year round barbecuing on the Big Green Egg. Well I’m at the kitchen table in Duncannon at the moment getting excited at the prospect of cooking my first ever pizza on the Egg later today, helped by my Italian friend Solange. On Sunday I’m going to have a trial run at cooking a turkey outdoors, practice for when Dermot’s Chinese family come to stay. About every second weekend I hope to try something new on the Egg, often with an Asian twist, but in between times I will continue my experiments with traditional Chinese recipes. I hope you enjoy both.
Part of my motivation at the moment is a slightly panic stricken planning ahead for my seven Chinese visitors in December – my daughter-in-law Shan’s MaMa and cousin, her bother his wife and child and first auntie and second auntie who will join us to celebrate Christmas and Shane and Shan’s Irish wedding. None of them have been outside China before and they will be relying on me to feed them for most of the two weeks they are here. There will be between 11 and 13 of us at our small kitchen table most evenings and I lie awake at night trying to dream up manageable meals for us all including some western and Chinese specialties. All suggestions and practical tips that don’t involve ordering in a Chinese takeaway are welcome…
Inspiration came in small packages recently when my young Chinese friend Tiedong brought me a gift from his home town of Harbin in north eastern China. Tiedong is studying for a PhD in Dublin and I first met him during the Dublin City Chinese New Year Festival earlier this year. He managed the website for the Taste of China which I helped coordinate. He is one of those very bright Chinese young people who make such a great addition to our increasingly multi-cultural country. He returned home to visit his family during the summer and he brought me back some boxes of Pearl Mountain Edible Black Fungus Block, a foodstuff for which Harbin is famous. It is found in the forests near Harbin where it grows on wood at the base of trees.
I had tasted black fungus in China where it is sometimes known as “wood ear” or “cloud ear”. It is packed full of nutrients and well known for its health giving properties as it is higher in iron content than green leafy vegetables and is also rich in calcium and amino acids. It is particularly good for clearing the lungs . Tiedong tells me that in his home town back in the 1950s barbers ate black fungus very often as it helped clear the dust they breathed in each day. It is also good for the digestion and circulation – in Chinese Traditional Medicine it is regarded as increasing the fluidity of the blood.
Apart from its medicinal properties, black fungus is prized for its crunchy texture and the “mouth feel” it adds to soups and stir-frys. It is purchased dried and, when soaked in water it swells to several times its volume and the dark frilly clumps resemble “ears” or “clouds”. The texture becomes silky, slippery and almost translucent, a bit like sea weed but without the associated flavour. In fact the fungus has no real flavour of its own but it readily absorbs the sauces and seasonings it is cooked with.
I have found black fungus in the Asia Market in Dublin and other Asian supermarkets where it comes in bags like dried Shitake mushrooms and can be reconstituted in warm water in 15 minutes or so. Sometimes the grittier part where it has been attached to the bark of a tree needs to be trimmed away.
The compressed Pearl Mountain variety that Tiedong brought back to me is of the highest quality. It is packaged in little boxes no bigger than a matchbox and Tiedong recommended soaking a portion in lots of luke warm water for a few hours, then rinsing it several times. Once reconstituted it was ready for use without further trimming.
Tiedong gave me the recipe below which is how he prepares it at home. The end result was full of flavour despite involving only a small number of ingredients and being very fast to prepare. We enjoyed the slippery and chewy texture the fungus added to the dish. My niece Jodie decided that it felt a bit like eating balloons, but in a good way! This dish will definitely feature on the menu for my Chinese guests and could be served alongside other spicier dishes as part of a Chinese meal.
Pork with Black Fungus
- 1 compressed black fungus (or a large handful of dried fungus)
- 2 – 3 carrots
- ½ a Chinese cabbage
- 1 pork steak
- 2 – 3 tbs groundnut oil
- A thumb of ginger (about 3 cms)
- 2 – 3 cloves garlic
- Salt to taste
- 1 – 2 tbs light soy sauce
- Soak the compressed black fungus in a large bowl of warm water for several hours until it has puffed up and expanded in volume. Rinse several times under cold water and set aside.
- Slice the carrot at an angle and blanche by plunging in boiled water with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes or by steaming for 2 – 3 mins. Rinse with cold water and set to one side.
- Slice the Chinese cabbage and blanche by plunging in boiled water with a pinch of salt for 5 min or by steaming for 2 – 3 minutes. Rinse with cold water and set to one side.
- Slice the pork steak into 1 cm slices and then, across the grain, into thin strips.
- Heat 2 – 3 tbs groundnut oil in a wok over high heat. Add the pork, then add the ginger and garlic and cook over high heat until the pork has changed colour and the garlic and ginger have softened and released their fragrance.
- Add the carrot and cabbage and stir-fry over high heat until the pork is cooked through.
- Add the black fungus and stir -fry over high heat until heated through.
- Put the lid on for 2 – 3 min, stirring regularly.
- Add a pinch of salt salt and a good dash of soy sauce. Stir until very little juice is left , then taste to adjust seasoning and serve with boiled rice.