Wood Ear Mushroom (Cloud Ear Fungus, Yun Er)
Wood ear is a family of fungi that are ear-shaped and grow on trees. This species of wood ear is the small and delicate cloud ear, which, being thinner and lighter, is easier to rehydrate to the perfect texture than the thick, coarse varieties.
Many Chinese dishes call for wood ear mushrooms not so much for their flavor—which is slight—but for their chewy, gelatinous texture. They are just the right textural counterpoint to soft proteins or vegetables and also add a nice bit of color to lighter dishes. You know them from hot and sour soup, yu xiang pork and moo shu pork, perhaps, but they're a nice addition to other stir-fries as well and make a popular Sichuan cold dish dressed in a tangy vinegar sauce.
To rehydrate, rinse cloud ear to clean, then soak in cool water for around 1.5 hours. In a pinch, you can use warm water, but the hotter the water and quicker the soaking process, the tougher the mushroom. Premium wood ear is favored for its delicate texture and benefits from careful preparation. It's better to wait for the fungus to naturally rehydrate and expand than try to speed it along with hot water.
Cloud ear mushrooms must always be cooked, so boil about a minute before use or proceed with recipe instructions for cooking. While recipes may instruct you to remove the nub at the base of the fungus before use, these are so young and small that you do not need to do so. The soaking liquid should be discarded due to potential toxins, and wood ear mushrooms should be eaten the same day they are rehydrated. Rehydrated wood ear is prone to growing a surface toxin if it sits for a long time (e.g. overnight).
Source: Cultivated in Jining, Shandong Province
Size: 2.0 ounces (57 grams)