Chinese cooking is a veritable treasure trove of wood ear mushroom recipes, as this fungus grows natively in East Asian regions. Whether you’re looking to add a new shroom to your stock or dive into Sichuan flavors, this collection will help you get a basic start on cooking with wood ear mushrooms.
Wood ears have a distinct shape (they really do look like ears) and an interesting texture (which also, oddly, sort of feels like an ear). They have a slightly squeaky consistency that can become soft, chewy, or gelatinous when cooked.
As for flavor, black fungus (another name for wood ear) has less umami than shiitake mushrooms. They are lightly earthy and will take on the taste of other ingredients, becoming spicy, salty, or even sweet, depending on what you’ve combined them with.
Plus, wood ear shrooms are packed with minerals, containing more complex B vitamins than more common culinary fungi like oyster mushrooms.
Wood ear mushrooms are relatively easy to find so long as you look outside of conventional Western grocery stores. If your local Asian market specializes in Chinese cuisine, it will likely have dried packages in-store.
Wood ears are less common in Korean markets, like H Mart, but it still might be worth a look. Delivery services like Amazon and Instacart (in certain localities) even offer them. Wood ears mushrooms are often mistaken for cloud ears, so make sure to verify what you’re getting.
It’s possible to find fresh wood ear mushrooms alongside packs of dried varieties, but neither type should ever be eaten raw. We’ll repeat this for safe measure: Don’t eat wood ears without cooking them!
Raw wood ear mushrooms have been linked to salmonella outbreaks. While this is most common when the fungi are prepared in unclean environments, you’ll likely be unable to verify exactly how your dried mushrooms were harvested and packaged.
Since these mushrooms may harbor bacteria, it’s best practice to cook them before consuming them.
Wood ear mushrooms are easy to cook with, but their thin form won’t work for hearty recipes like stuffed mushrooms.
Instead, you’ll want to cut them into slivers. From there, sautéeing and stir-frying are good routes, but note that overcooking can make the texture chewy.
As you’ll see below, many of these recipes opt for a quick boil and then a combo of wood ear mushrooms with raw, chopped ingredients and sauces. Rice vinegar, soy sauce, and other umami-packed dressings are all natural pairings in this application.
Wood ear mushrooms are a versatile ingredient to work with, and most of these recipes call for a relatively short cook time. They’re listed from beginner to expert, but even the expert recipes shouldn’t be too difficult.
The first and most important recipe to follow with wood ear mushrooms is knowing how to rehydrate them from their dried form. Simply soak them in a large bowl for up to two hours, then follow this recipe for a classic Sichuan salad.
Once you’ve got the basics of rehydrating wood ear mushrooms, this recipe is the next step in basic cooking techniques. You’ll prep the mushrooms for a short time in boiling water, let them cool, and combine them with raw ingredients and black vinegar, chillis, and garlic. The customization options are endless.
Apart from making a salad or learning to rehydrate your dried wood ears, there’s no recipe as simple as this quick stir-fry. To get creative, consider switching up your cooking oil, folding in some extra vegetables, or adding creative garnishes like sesame seeds.
Skip the light soy sauce and go for something deep and umami-rich here. The dark soy sauce, paired with sesame oil, maple, and chili peppers, will take your tastebuds on a ride. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but add some diced cilantro or basil to provide that rounded freshness of herbs.
The expert thing about this recipe with be finding day lilies to use in your soup. Look for dried packets that you can rehydrate with hot to warm water. If you can find them, you’ll have gained an ingredient that’s super high in vitamin A and vitamin C.
This recipe may be listed in the expert range, but this is one of the simplest Thai curries you’re likely to make. Don’t forget to drain and press the tofu for an extra crunchy texture in the finished curry. Using a wok will also help create a crispy sear.
A few garlic cloves, scallions, and oyster sauce are all you need to turn wood ears into a memorable weeknight dinner. The total time of cooking comes in at about an hour, but we promise this meal is sooo worth it. Though sotanghon is typically soaked in cold water, we recommend adding dry noodles to the broth as the recipe advises to infuse all the flavors.
Mushrooms and… chocolate? Hear us out! By soaking these gelatinously textured shrooms in a bowl of fruit juice, they’ll take on a sweet and nuanced flavor that makes most of the mushroom taste.
Pan-fried dumplings are a staple in Chinese cuisine. This recipe gives an authentic way to use wood ears. Prep time is a bit longer since you’ll form the dumplings yourself, but making them from scratch allows you to replace the recipe’s dough with something gluten-free if needed.
This recipe can be made in one of two ways: either use a premade can of biscuit dough — like Pillsbury — or try your hand at making your own pastries from scratch.
There are a lot of benefits to keeping a dried pack of these shrooms around. Rehydrating and working with wood ear mushrooms will open your kitchen to a world of flavors. From salads to soups to desserts, wood ear is a versatile fungus you can use in several tasty recipes. Just add water for a good time!