China South of the Clouds

Traveling and Cooking in China's Yunnan Province

Mushroom Season: Porcinis

August 22nd, 2012

Sliced, dried porcinis (or niu gan jun, as we say here) have become a staple of our Kunming cooking repertoire. They’re sold in nearly every grocery store and corner shop, and we’ve fallen in love with the local way of soaking them in oil with chiles and Sichuan peppercorns. But recently we’ve finally found fresh ones popping up in markets and restaurant. Though I could have made many different dishes with them (and briefly thought about trying to make some kind of risotto from Chinese rice), I couldn’t resist letting the experts show me how the locals prepare them.

We went straight to the Bai minority restaurant on our corner, where we were given two choices of preparation: stir-fried with fresh green chiles or stir-fried with dried chiles. After months of eating green chiles in every mushroom dish, we opted for the later. They sliced the mushrooms very thin and cooked them, without much oil or broth, with slivers of garlic and roughly chopped dried chiles. The resulting dish had an amazingly complex aroma full of umami—reminiscent of a high-quality soy sauce despite the inevitably low quality of the little bit of soy sauce the cook had used—and the mushrooms themselves were meaty and tender and redolent of that particularly earthy porcini taste. Next time the mushrooms crop up in the market, I might go back to using them in Italian dishes, but this was a particularly lovely way to try one of Yunnan’s most famous foraged foods.

Recipe to come later…

Photos: Josh Wand (2)