China South of the Clouds

Traveling and Cooking in China's Yunnan Province

Mushroom Season: Yellow Oil Mushrooms

July 7th, 2012

Mushroom season has arrived in Yunnan with a bang. The onslaught of fungi arrived almost overnight, flooding the sidewalks and streets outside the local markets. On any given day, there are half a dozen interesting and strange-looking varieties for sale, some somewhat familiar and delicious-looking and some strange and new and intriguing.

Last year, the mushroom season was shockingly short, cut off just part-way through the summer by drought, and I, unaware that there was a clock on my ability to explore Yunnan’s most famous food, only managed to try three or four kinds before they all disappeared. This year, I intend to make up for my mistake by trying as many kinds as I can (and doing my best to identify and describe them as I go).

Huang you gan, “yellow oil mushrooms,” top row, sold alongside “red cap” mushrooms

I began, a couple weeks ago, with the largest, most meaty-looking specimens I could find, the huang you gan, or “yellow oil mushroom,” a type of boletus with large, thick spongy caps, stout stems, and a deep golden color. After a false start (the first batch I bought appeared to be hosting the offspring of some neighborly insect), I washed them thoroughly, sliced them into thin pieces, and stir-fried them with sliced green peppers, a popular way of preparing them here in Kunming.

I hadn’t gotten very far in my cooking before I realized where these mushroom got their descriptive name. Everything that touched them, from the washing water to the cooking oil, took on their deep golden color, as if the mushrooms were some mycological version of King Midas, or, perhaps more fittingly, the Bond villain Goldfinger. (These mushrooms are, after all, potentially toxic if not cooked thoroughly.) Even after they were cooked, the mushrooms continued to bleed gold, staining my white rice like turmeric.

Their flavor, however, was wonderful—rich and meaty but with a flavor somewhat reminiscent of canned green beans that was complimented by the fruity spiciness of the chiles.

Recipe: Stir-Fried Mushrooms with Green Chiles

Photos: Josh Wand (3)