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Stir-fried porcini mushrooms - Chao Niuganjun (炒牛肝菌)
May is here, which in Yunnan means the beginning of wild mushroom season! Every year from May to September, a cornucopia of wild mushroom varieties is available in markets and restaurants throughout the province.
Kunming locals will begrudgingly accept the cultivated variety – which they derisively call 'artificial mushrooms' (人工菌) - during most of the year, but come mushroom season they flock to markets and restaurants for fresh mushrooms including the pine mushroom aka songrong aka matsutake (松茸), the chicken palm mushroom aka jizong (鸡棕) and the porcino mushroom, known in China as the 'ox liver mushroom' (牛肝菌). Today we will cook the fragrant and meaty porcino.
First, a brief but important word of warning: if not prepared properly, cooking fresh porcini carries the risk of severe stomach pain and/or mild to intense hallucinations of little people, snakes, etc. When preparing this delicious mushroom, always remember these important rules:
1. Use your sharpest knife to slice the porcini as thinly and evenly as possible.
2. Use more oil to cook the porcini than you would use for frying other veggies.
3. Cook the porcini thoroughly, coming just shy of starting to burn them.
4. If you refrigerate your leftover cooked porcini, make sure to reheat thoroughly before eating the second time – DO NOT eat cold or partially reheated!!!
1 small capsicum**
5 cloves garlic
2 tsp salt
Oil for frying
*It is unlikely that you will be able to obtain fresh porcini unless you are in Yunnan during mushroom season. It is possible throughout China to obtain dried porcini which will be safe to reconstitute and cook.
** Using zhoupi lajiao (皱皮辣椒) – a slightly spicy wrinkly-skinned variety of capsicum – is recommended for this dish. It is widely available throughout China. If you can't find this type of capsicum, substitute with your favorite variety.
Wash and soak the mushrooms in water for 5 – 10 minutes. Thinly slice the garlic and chop the capsicum into small pieces.
Slice the mushroom caps and stems thinly and evenly. For larger mushrooms the stems can be removed and sliced lengthwise, separately from the caps. The yellow flesh of the porcino acquires an alarming blue hue shortly after making contact with fresh air: this is normal.
Heat several tablespoons of oil in a wok. Add the garlic and fry for about 30 seconds before adding the mushrooms and capsicum. Add the salt and stir fry, turning constantly, for around five minutes – your aim being to boil off most of the natural moisture coming out of the mushrooms.
Transfer to a bowl or plate and serve alongside your other dishes.
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