All Hail the Black Fungus

I was creating yet another post that once again used black fungus as an ingredient, but when I found myself dedicating more than 300 words convincing you to use this amazing ingredient in your cooking, I decided it needed its own post.

I really want to take this opportunity to recommend that you try the noble, yet humble, black fungus.

It came into my life waaaaaaaay back in my college/early mamahood days when I discovered how much more bang for my buck and variety I get from shopping my local Chinese grocery store over relying solely on the regular grocery store. I’d had a bag of the stuff stashed in my pantry and I would reach into it to toss into soups and stir fries here and there, but then, one day, I was finishing a big project, needing feed toddlers and way out of groceries allatonce and ended up tossing together a pesto/bell pepper/cheese/wood ear mushroom pizza and a simple salad and my life was changed. It was one of the most delicious pizzas I’d ever eaten in my life.

I’ve heard many describe Black fungus, wood or cloud ear mushroom as having a jelly-like texture, which I feel makes them sound disgusting and is also not at all correct, especially when prepared nicely, like so:

Once they come out of the pot, they’re more like pasta done al dente; fluffy and toothy but with a lot more flavour and a bit more chew.

They’re meaty, not at all slimy (though I understand that’s part of the taxonomy of mushroomland) and, while they have the woodsy flavour one expects from any mushroom, they’re also quite mild and conducive to being infused with all manner of flavours, which is what endears them to me so greatly.

They’re also an amazing value. A 200 gram bag runs about $7, which might seem spendy for 200 grams of mushrooms, but holy Mary, mother of pearl, just a dab will do ya.

These little guys go from this:

To this:

Which is easily 5 times their original size.

And they last about a week in the fridge after reconstitution.

Since purchasing my last bag, I have used black fungus in 7 different meals and I still have 175 grams left.

On top of being delicious in and of their little squishy selves, ingenious flavour-delivery vehicles and wallet-friendly, they’re also, apparently a kind of super-food. Just google “benefits of black fungus” and see for yourselves.

Ok, fine. Here, I’ve done it for you.

Magic mushrooms, indeed!

All of that gushing aside, it’s good to get the right kind. Please don’t waste your dollars on the already shredded kinds. They’re more expensive and far less versatile than their whole-dried brethren. As it goes, not all brands are created equal and you sometimes end up with the kind that still have the rather woody stems attached. Those stems are not delicious and should be removed (and tossed into your bouillon bag) before incorporating them into your dishes.

This is my preferred brand:

If you can find them at your local grocer’s, buy them! Otherwise, you may have to go by trial and error, but that’s no biggie as you’ll get a lot out of whichever brand you find.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have at least one recipe (but actually several) upcoming that uses the majestic black fungus but do experiment with them in the meantime. They’re versatile enough to use in any recipe that calls for mushrooms. Stir fries and soups are the go-tos. Check out this simple dish that has become a favourite of mine. The world is your wood ear!

Whether you’re new to the black fungus bandwagon or have already accepted them into your culinary life, I would love to know what you do with them Please feel free to share in the comments!

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