Standing out for their springy, crunchy texture, wood ear mushrooms are versatile and tasty! This post shows the rehydration process and how to make them into a delicious salad.
What is wood ear mushroom
A type of edible tree fungus, wood ear mushrooms (Mu’er/木耳) are also known as wood jellyfish, tree ears, Jew’s ear, black fungus, etc. Fresh ones (or rehydrated dried ones) have a curved, half circled, ear-resembling look and a light brown or brownish-black colour.
Commonly used in Chinese cuisine, they are an indispensable ingredient in Chinese pantries. If you haven’t had a chance to taste it before, I highly recommend you read on to learn about this fascinating mushroom and hopefully get some in your local Chinese/Asian stores.
What does it taste like
The beauty of wood ear mushrooms comes from their springy, crunchy and jelly-like texture. If you’ve got extensive experience of authentic Chinese dishes, you should already know how much the texture (mouth feel/口感) of a food is appreciated (Food writer Fuchsia Dunlop explained it well in the chapter “The Rubber Factor” of her book Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper).
In terms of taste, they don’t offer a strong flavour. You might notice a hint of woody, earthy taste if eating them plain. But they’re great at absorbing seasonings and their irregular shape helps them to “catch” the sauce effectively.
How to rehydrate
Wood ear mushrooms usually come in dried form. They feel firm, light and have a grey/black appearance. Once soaked in water, they expand dramatically and go back to their original size.
Put dried mushrooms in a large bowl then add plenty of cold water. Leave to rehydrate for about 2 hours until they become brownish, plump, springy and slightly transparent. It’s fine to soak them overnight. If your kitchen is quite warm, keep the bowl in the fridge.
Sometimes, you might forget to soak them in advance or you’ve just got an impulsive idea to incorporate them in a dish (This happens to me many times!). Please feel free to use hot water to reduce the process to 20 mins (but the cold water method produces the best result in terms of texture).
After soaking, wash the mushrooms by rubbing one piece at a time to remove any dirt hidden around the folds. Tough stems need to be snipped off.
🛎 Tips: You’re not supposed to eat wood ear mushrooms raw. Always cook them before consumption.
Fresh wood ears can be found at markets in China, but to be on the safe side, I wouldn’t suggest you eat those you forage in the wild.
Ways to use it
Wood ear mushrooms are a must-have ingredient in Chinese kitchens. Apart from today’s salad dish in which they play the leading role (find the recipe in later sections), wood ears are often used as an accompaniment to other ingredients. They effectively add interesting colour and texture to dishes.
- You can find them in many Chinese stir-fry dishes, such as Sichuan Shredded Pork, Moo Shu Pork, King Oyster Mushroom with Garlic Sauce, etc.
- They taste nice in soups too. For example, they’re indispensable for the authentic version of Hot & Sour Soup.
- They make a great addition to dumpling fillings, particularly for vegetarian/vegan ones. Not only do they provide a nice crunch, but they’re also good at absorbing excessive moisture in an overly wet filling.
- They’re a very popular item in Chinese hot pot meals.
A tasty salad recipe
Commonly found in restaurant menus, wood ear mushroom salad is tasty, refreshing and very simple to make (vegetarian & vegan friendly too).
Step 1: Cook the mushrooms
- Rehydrate and wash the mushrooms following the steps explained earlier. Tear large ones into bite-sized pieces.
- Bring a pot of water to a full boil then blanch them for about 5 mins.
- Drain, then rinse under running water to cool.
🛎 Tip: You may need to slightly reduce the cooking time if your wood ears are extra thin. After cooking, they should retain the springiness and don’t feel too soft or mushy/slimy.
Step 2: Make the sauce
When making Chinese style salad, my go-to formula involves a particular method called You Po (油泼) meaning “pouring hot oil”. This diminishes the sharp taste of raw aromatics (garlic, scallions, etc.) and fully releases the flavour of spices.
- Put minced garlic, chili flakes/powder and ground Sichuan pepper into a heat-proof bowl. Heat some oil then pour into the bowl.
- Add light soy sauce, black rice vinegar and a little sugar. Mix well.
Step 3: Combine the dish
Add wood ears, thinly sliced red onion and fresh chili pepper to a large bowl (If you’re a fan of coriander/cilantro like me, add some for extra colour and flavour). Pour the sauce over then mix well.
🛎 Tip: You may enjoy the dish right away. Or, chill it in the fridge for a while for a better taste (the dressing will be absorbed more by the wood ears over time).
Other dishes featuring mushrooms
Love the taste of mushrooms? Check out these recipes to learn how to prepare them in delicious Chinese ways.
Wood Ear Mushroom Salad (凉拌木耳)
- 25 g dried wood ear mushrooms, about 1 oz
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes/chili powder
- 1 pinch ground Sichuan pepper
- 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon black rice vinegar
- 1 pinch sugar
- 1 red chili pepper, thinly sliced
- ¼ red onion, thinly sliced
- Coriander (cilantro), optional
Prepare the mushrooms
- In a large bowl, soak dried wood ear mushrooms in cold water for 2 hours until they’re fully rehydrated (see note for alternative methods).
- Under tap water, wash one by one to remove dirt hidden in the folds. Snip off tough stems if any. Tear large ones into bite-sized pieces.
- Bring a pot of water to a full boil. Blanch the mushrooms for 5 mins (You may need to reduce the time a little if your mushrooms appear extra thin).
- Rinse under running water to cool then drain well.
Make the sauce
- Put minced garlic, chili flakes/powder and ground Sichuan pepper in a heat-proof bowl. Heat oil until it smokes then pour over the garlic and spices.
- Add light soy sauce, black rice vinegar and sugar. Mix well.
Combine the dish
- In a large bowl, mix the mushroom, chili pepper, onion, coriander (if using) and the sauce until well combined.
- Transfer to a serving plate/bowl. You may enjoy it immediately or refrigerate for a while for an even better taste.