With Chinese New Year 2017 fast approaching, its time to beef up your knowledge about the ingredients that commonly go into home-cooked reunion dinners, lest you get cheated of your money! Do you know the difference between the two shiitake mushrooms above, and which one would you choose? How do you identify different grades of Shiitake mushroom, and how do you choose the good ones?
P.S. If you just want the short answer, you can scroll down to the bottom of the post to satisfy your curiosity!
Identifying Different Grades of Shiitake Mushroom
There are 3 different grades of Shiitake Mushroom or 香菇 (Xiang Gu) in Chinese cooking. Top grade Shiitake Mushroom is known as 花菇 (Hua Gu) or Flower Mushroom (mushroom on the left side in the photo below) because of the distinctive fissures on its cap which look like the pattern of a flower. The next best grade is known as 冬菇 (Dong Gu) or Winter Mushroom (mushroom on the right side in the photo below), followed by 香菇 (Xiang Gu) or Fragrant Mushroom, which is also the generic term of Shiitake Mushroom in Mandarin. Flower Mushroom (Hua Gu) is best used for frying with vegetables and dishes which use the whole mushroom, such as Braised Chinese Shiitake Mushroom or Men Dong Gu (see my recipe here!), a CNY favourite. On the other hand, the Winter Mushroom (Dong Gu) and the Fragrant Mushroom (Xiang Gu) are usually used for 煲汤 or bo tong in Cantonese (literally translated as “long boiling soups”) such as in my Sweet Corn Pork Rib Soup Recipe, or for dishes using sliced mushrooms like my Cabbage Mushroom Rice Recipe where there is less scrutiny on the quality of the mushroom.
Exhibit 1: Flower Mushroom (Hua Gu) vs. Winter Mushroom (Dong Gu)
As I explained earlier, its simple enough to distinguish Flower Mushroom (Hua Gu) from the others, but how do you tell the difference between Winter Mushroom (Dong Gu) and the Fragrant Mushroom (Xiang Gu)? Here are a few tell tale signs:
|Winter Mushroom (Dong Gu)||Fragrant Mushroom (Xiang Gu)|
|Thick and meaty caps||Thin and flattish caps|
|Edges of the caps are very rounded and nicely curled in||Very little curl in the edges of the caps, or edges are splayed outwards instead|
|Nicely formed and unbroken||Poorly formed with frayed or broken edges|
Tips For Selecting The Best Quality Shiitake Mushrooms
Whichever grade of shiitake mushrooms you are buying, here are some quick rules you can follow when choosing your mushrooms:
- As far as possible, select your own shiitake mushrooms from a loose pile rather than buy pre-packed mushrooms where it’s much more difficult to verify the quality of the mushrooms you are buying. Moreover, the bigger and nicer ones are usually packed on top of the smaller and ugly ones below, so don’t be deceived, folks.
- Even more importantly, don’t fall temptation to the convenience of pre-sliced shiitake mushrooms, which are usually inferior grade mushrooms, because once it is sliced, people can’t tell that they were actually poorly formed or broken to begin with. You are almost certainly going to end up paying through your nose for mushrooms that are really not worth the price. Usually the sliced up ones are very ‘Jun’ ( chewy and tough and it doesn’t taste like mushroom).
- You can consider getting Shiitake mushrooms from Japan which tend to be better quality than the ones from China, but they do cost quite a bit more as well.
- Choose shiitake mushrooms with thick caps and short and skinny stems.Thick caps give the mushrooms a more substantial bite, especially if the mushrooms are going to be eaten whole. Long stems will just add unnecessary weight to your purchase, because the stems are too tough to be eaten and usually discarded.
- Choose shiitake mushrooms which are well formed, unbroken, have the edges of the cap curled nicely inwards and with lightly coloured gills. Mushrooms of inferior quality are usually poorly formed, have fraying edges, little curl in the edges of the cap, and/or darker coloured gills.
- Avoid choosing shiitake mushrooms which feel soft, limp or damp. These mushrooms are not fresh and will become rubbery and chewy after cooking.
- Let your nose be your guide. Choose mushrooms that smell very fragrant, these are usually the good ones.
- The bigger the mushroom, the more expensive it is.
The Answer To The Quiz
And finally, the answer you have all been waiting for, don’t be taken in by Winter Mushrooms (Dong Gu) masquerading as Flower Mushrooms (Hua Gu)! What do I mean? The mushroom on the right in the photo below is actually a Winter Mushroom (Dong Gu) that has been ‘modified’ with a few shallow incisions on its cap before the drying process to give the impression of flower shaped fissures. You can tell that the incisions are man-made because the pattern looks too straight and neat. So, all things being equal, definitely choose the mushroom on the left of the photo below – the Flower Mushroom (Hua Gu), King of Shiitake Mushrooms!
Now am I the only one who thinks it is rather unethical for sellers to artificially ‘beautify’ the Winter Mushroom (Dong Gu) in such a way that will most likely mislead buyers into thinking this is a Flower Mushroom (Hua Gu)? Do share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below!
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|About The Burning Kitchen|
Hi! We are Bee Leng and Melissa, the mother-daughter team behind The Burning Kitchen. We love home cooking and we love sharing our family’s recipes with the world. We only ever share proven recipes that we have perfected ourselves, and which we write-up from scratch (no hidden steps, no secret sauces). And the best part is: our recipes are full of fantastic, and often, surprisingly easy tips from years of experience, that is bound to improve your cooking regardless of your current level! Read more.