China South of the Clouds

Traveling and Cooking in China's Yunnan Province

Mushroom Season: “Red Mushrooms”

July 14th, 2012

Recently a stunningly beautiful mushroom showed up in the markets. The sellers just call it hong jun, “red mushroom,” or hong jian yu qing, which translates to something like “looks red, turns green.” But there are a lot of mushrooms that could be called “red” in Yunnan. The beauty of these particular mushrooms (which look like they might be boletus ripariellus, though that’s an amateur guess)┬álies in the stunning contrast of colors between the deep ruby of the cap, the bright gold of the underside, and the way the two colors merge in the stem. They’re simply gorgeous, and they stop me in my tracks every time I see them.

Unfortunately, as their Chinese name suggests, they don’t maintain this beautiful color when cooked. As soon as I began to wash them, some of the edges turned a bluish black color, and as I sliced, that stain covered most of the cut surfaces. And when I cooked them, using the simplest stir-fry recipe for mushrooms that I know so that I could truly appreciate their flavor, they eventually turned a deep brown. (For the first few minutes, the sliced mushrooms actually maintained a beautiful combination of red, gold, and blue colors, but the vendor had warned me that this variety might give me stomach trouble if I undercooked them, so I continued heating them until they were completely soft all the way through.)

When cooked, each slice of mushroom had a somewhat mild flavor, but a mouthful yielded a lovely, earthy, almost wine-like flavor with hints of pine in the aftertaste. They made a lovely, balanced accompaniment to roast chicken, and I imagine they’d be even better cooked as a soup or hotpot with chicken broth.

Recipe: Simple Stir-Fried Mushrooms with Garlic

Photos: Josh Wand (2)