A white fungus mushroom after it has been rehydrated.
#100daysofcooking, Recipes

Day 97: A magical mushroom mystery tour


White Fungus and Chicken Soup


When the going gets tough, there is nothing like having a good friend extend a helping hand.

On or about Day 62, Karen went grocery shopping and threw a little something in her cart for me. “Look, this could be one of your cast-offs!” she enthused, handing me some packages. “And Dan is a fun guy!”

I didn’t have my reading glasses handy and couldn’t read the labels, so the fun guy comment zipped right past me as I studied what appeared to be large, yellowish … bath sponges?

Not quite. The packages contained dried white fungus (ah-ha, fun guy equals fungi!), a substance I had never heard of before.

Out of necessity, I have now done quite a bit of research. After all, one doesn’t just throw a bath sponge into a pot of water and call it soup.

Does one?

A dried white fungus, front, and the rehydrated version which can almost double in size and loses the yellow colour.
A dried white fungus, front, and the rehydrated version which can almost double in size and loses the yellow colour.

Here are some the fascinating pieces of information I have discovered about white fungus.

• Tremella fuciformis is a species of fungus which goes by many different names including snow fungus, white tree ear, white wood ear, silver ear fungus, white jelly mushroom and more.

• White fungus is flavourless and though it looks like it would have a slimy or gelatinous texture, don’t be fooled. The texture is hard to describe, but al dente is close.

• For more than 2,000 years, it has been highly prized in Chinese medicine. It is said to “nourish and moisten” the lungs and is good for the complexion. It’s also known for its cooling properties, removing a body’s “dryness” and “heat” by increasing body fluids.

• The mushrooms require a bit of prep before adding to a soup or stir-fry: soak, trim the leaves away from the core, cook, then add to your dish. During the soaking process, the mushrooms give off a bit of an ammonia-like smell and some websites encourage changing the soaking water to clear it off.

• Most recipe suggestions for white fungus are for simple clear soups; in parts of China, soup was served at the end of every meal often substituting for other beverages. Traditionally, white fungus was used in  “dessert” soups incorporating pears, figs, berries or sweet potatoes. When the production of white fungus was commercialized, bringing the cost down, it started to be used in savoury soups as well.

History, medicinal properties, a better complexion. The fact that I was still suffering a painful cough that had now lasted almost four weeks added to the attraction — a little bit of lung nourishment would be gratefully accepted.

This was intriguing, even magical, stuff.

With that in mind, and mindful of a container of mysterious frozen stock that I figured on using up, I opted for a savoury chicken soup. Given my western tastes, I also choose a recipe that incorporated the additional flavours of soy sauce, sherry and rice vinegar. It was good, but next time I’m keen to keep it simple — just broth, veggies, chicken and mushrooms.

Did you catch that? I said “next time.” Given that I thought I’d been handed bath sponges, the fact that there will be a next time speaks volumes about the magic of this particular mushroom.

Kitchen Castoff Used

The donated dried white fungus, plus another one of Dan’s UFOs (Unidentified Frozen Objects) which we thought was chicken broth but ended up being beef broth. (That particular error didn’t work to the finished project’s advantage. But at least now we know what it was.)

This is how we did it

I read a lot of different recipes but referred most to these two from The Common Room and  Chowhound.

Ingredients

  • 1 large dried white fungus
  • 6 cups chicken broth plus 2 cups water
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thin
  • 3 tsp soy sauce
  • 3 cups cooked chicken pieces, cut up small; or similar amount of uncooked ground chicken
  • 1½ tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sherry
  • salt to taste
  • 2 green onions, chopped (optional)

Method

Soak the white fungus in warm water for about 15 minutes. If you want, change the water part-way through to clear away any odours. Once the fungus is rehydrated, you will cook it in boiling water for about 15 minutes. This will ensure the leaves are fully cooked. Drain and let dry (you can squeeze the water out if you like), then use scissors to cut off the leaves from the tough centre, which you will discard.

In a soup pot, combine the broth, water, carrots, chicken and soy sauce and bring to a boil. If you are using ground chicken, let it simmer for about 30 minutes until the meat is cooked and the carrots are cooked through to your liking.

Add salt and the chopped green onions.


Curious about my “Kitchen Castoffs” concept? Here’s the explainer describing my 100-day project.

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