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Yunnan mountain mushrooms and nearly wild goose


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Another great post.  Got to go to Yunnan again sometime!


I usually don't use butter in Chinese cooking - just not used to the taste of butter in a Chinese dish.  Maybe the taste of the mushrooms mask it?


Anyway, can't wait to see how goose is prepared in Yunnan!

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The goose part of this adventure started with a vendor sample. I had bought my mushrooms, peppers and garlic and was headed for the exit when a lady called out and pointed to a dish of meat slivers beside some toothpicks.




Being someone with low sales resistance meant I had to try a piece without asking any questions. Wow! The flavor just exploded in my mouth. "What is this delicious stuff?" I asked her. I thought it might be some kind of extra good beef jerky 牛肉干巴, since that's popular here.


Turned out it was made from the breast meat 脯肉 of free-range goose 大土鹅。She explained that the birds run around on about an acre of hilly open land and mostly eat grass and shrubs plus some grain and corn. The farm has a pond and they can swim, but they have clipped the wings early on so they cannot fly away. She said they could  run really fast, were pretty fierce, and all in all were about half wild. 差不多野生的!


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They cured pieces of breast meat with a rub of salt and seven spices. She wasn't eager to go into detail, but said the mix included 辣椒 hot pepper, 黑椒 black pepper, 八角 star anise, 茴香 fennel, and 花椒 Sichuan prickly ash. They cured them in open shade for "many days." I thought they might be smoked as well, be she said they weren't.


One piece cost 8 Yuan and she would sell you two for only 15, so obviously I sprung for the double. While she cut up my meat, a housewife who was a regular customer stopped to buy some. I asked how she cooked it. She said, "Just fry it up." The vendor said you could add red bell peppers 红椒 or scallions 大葱。


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The prep had already been done by her sharp knife and steady hand, so all I had to do at home was slice a red bell pepper.


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Make the wok hot, add a little oil and put in the meat a little at a time, kind of spreading it out as you go along. Stir fry over medium heat and after a couple minutes, add the peppers. Not much technique involved.


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Continue until the meat starts to curl and has begun to brown. The little bit of fat present on the savory meat produced a lot of oil and gave the dish a delicious full aroma.


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Dish it up. The rice is ready too, so let's have dinner!


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Thanks, Lips. I seldom use butter either, and this mushroom dish doesn't absolutely require it. It would be just fine made with only good quality corn or peanut cooking oil 食油。Must confess that the olive oil and unsalted butter were a nod to French cuisine and not really pure Yunnan.

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And for desert, we had dragonfruit 火龙果。




You probably already know how to cut these up, but just in case, here's a freebie.


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After cutting it into quarters, run your thumb between the thick, waxy outer peel and the inside fruit.


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These come in a white version, as shown, and a dark pink version that costs a little more. Best ones are probably grown on Hainan Island 海南岛,but these today came from south Yunnan, near Xishuangbanna 西双版纳。

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"sinful butter". I love that. Great post again abcdefg. Can you imagine: it's only 9:45 am here, and I have the impression that my aseptic, air-conditioned office smells of garlic and chanterelles - and my mouth is already watering. 

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Thanks again, as usual a great food write up. so nice to see no nuts in it.


Sinful Butter is absolutely necessary with mushrooms, even if you just use plain old safe white British button mushrooms, you need to add butter, fry them gently, as you say largish pieces, and serve on toast.


Simple but yummy.


Thanks for the dragon fruit info, always wondered what to eat and what not to eat, was sort of confused by all the seeds. I guess they are like the ones in strawberries, you don't really notice them.


What sort of flavour does Dragon fruit have?


Now I need to go and find something to eat. :)

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Thanks, Shelley. If you enjoy plain, good old sautéed mushrooms, you would go nuts for these Yunnan wild varieties. (Sorry for the pun.) I sometimes fry up a mix of local mushrooms with onion and have them on French bread. Unfortunately I don't have a toaster. That would be the classic presentation, and I enjoy it very much even though it's not Chinese.


This year the crop has been so plentiful that they are less expensive than usual. I've been using them all sorts of ways, some Chinese, some western and some that I guess you could call "fusion." Local spinach is excellent and cheap, as are the vine-ripened tomatoes. Sometimes I combine mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes lightly fried with Chinese spices.


Dragonfruit has a mild flavor, difficult to describe. Slightly sweet with a little bit of tang. The seeds are tiny and barely noticeable. They afford the flesh of the fruit an intriguing texture.

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Excellent post, abcd! As always, jealous of your neighborhood - that mushroom selection looks absolutely dreamy. I'm quite obsessed with mushrooms and always find myself staring at the wild mushroom section in my local grocer, envious of those with enough of a budget to buck up the $30+/pound price tags. Shiitake and white button mushrooms for this guy (for now!!).


I was also surprised by your use of butter and olive oil! Are these widely available in China? I'm afraid my mother spent 14 years living in western Europe (Belgium, France and Switzerland) so I grew up being spoon fed mushrooms or onions sauteed in plentiful EVOO and butter, but I didn't expect to track down any in China given the lack of dairy choices. I've also never seen the garlic you're using - is it much different from other varieties? We have both elephant and "normal" garlic, while the Chinese store nearby sells another variety of garlic that tends to have a much sharper bite - makes it perfect for a spicy stir fry, but rather too strong in hummus, salads, etc. as you say. Are the green mushrooms comparable to any more widely available mushrooms?


In terms of a light mushroom stir fry, my favorite method of cooking is to add in some fresh herbs, onions (or shallots), garlic, salt/pepper, olive oil and a bit of butter. While my garden tomatoes and squash have yet to prosper (slugs! SLUGS! SLUGS!), my herbs have been growing far faster than I could possibly eat them. Personal favorite with mushrooms is thyme. 


Also like your cleaver - do you always use a Chinese cleaver, or do you ever pull out a chef's knife? I've been debating with my mother if I should buy a Chinese cleaver in China, or bring a chef's knife from the states. I'm leaning towards the former - they look practical and "A Taste of China" shows them to be rather more versatile than their large size would make you think. My mother's take? "You'll chop your fingers off." We'll see.


'fraid I'll never be able to taste that goose, but I will be on the lookout for mushrooms once I get to China (Sept 7th!). Hopefully, there are some late bloomers still available in the markets!


EDIT: Also, Dragon fruit = yum; love them for some beach fruit. Easily portable, come with their own napkin and plate. Like a banana!

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Thanks for your comments, Alex_Hart. Even though wild mushrooms here are more expensive than cultivated varieties, this year they have been both plentiful and affordable. When I buy the more expensive varieties, such as 牛肝菌 boletus/porcini and 松茸菌 matsutake that grow in the high pine forests,  I can still buy enough to make a meal for under 100 Yuan. 


I was surprised to find that this year some of the hunters who go out to gather mushrooms in the pine forests have started to also bring back fresh pine cones. Handy people with more time than money buy them whole, then extract and roast the pine nuts on their own. You can smell them from far away.


Here's a snapshot of some alongside a variety of edible, high-meadow thistle that I’ve seldom seen before. Yunnan “flower cuisine” is something really exotic about which I know so little. There are usually six or eight kinds of fresh "food flowers" for sale on any given day.




The market also has two sellers of cultivated mushrooms 人工菌 with a dozen different kinds between them, most of which are available year round. Here's a snapshot of one. But you will surely be able to find some wild ones in early September. Pretty sure that farther north they are harvested well into October.




Olive oil 橄榄油 is easy to come by in China today, some imported and some domestic. Butter 黄油 can be had in supermarket chain stores such as Carrefour and WalMart, but it isn't popular and I had to go to three stores before finding it in stock this week. 


By all means, buy a trusty 菜刀 once you arrive back in China next month. With it and one of those thick, old-fashioned chopping boards 菜板 made from a cross section of tree trunk, you can really go to town. My knife and cutting board are ancient, inherited from my landlord. I tell myself that they must have many years of accumulated kitchen wisdom.


The knife is not stainless, just plain high-carbon steel, and it takes an edge easily with a whetstone 磨刀石。


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Every now and then an old guy comes by on a three-wheel bicycle 三轮车 to sharpen knives, but I never hear him hollering outside near the entry gate until it's too late.


Edited to add: The big garlic 独蒜 is mild, similar in taste to elephant garlic. But it is just one single pod, not cloves 蒜瓣。It will probably be findable in Hangzhou, even though I think it's indigenous to Guangxi and Yunnan. (Baidu says that the majority of it, at least for export, is grown in Shandong.)


And I envy your home-grown kitchen herbs. Wish I could get basil, thyme and rosemary here. (Maybe you should take a few seeds along when you head to school. Could plant some in a window pot.)

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Abcd, thanks for the detailed reply! I'm honestly drooling at the mushrooms - I had to show my entire family (the grandmother, mother, sister and girlfriend). Everybody knows my obsession with mushrooms, and my chagrin at my many failures at amateur mycology. Have gone mushroom hunting more than once and come back empty-handed. Maybe I will track down an expert 阿姨 when I visit my girlfriend''s family in the countryside of 浙江 who can show me her ways. One can dream.


The flower cuisine sounds really intriguing. The Copenhagen-based restaurant Noma (numerous times named the #1 restaurant in the world) largely came to fame for its use of mosses, ferns, seaweeds and flowers indigenous to the area. There was an excellent piece written not long ago in the New Yorker about trying to replicate that model in Uruguay in an effort to really shine a light on such cuisine, and it has enjoyed a renaissance here in the states as foraging has once again come in vogue (quite an improvement over the last few food fads, if I do say so myself). Have been seeking out fiddlehead ferns ever since I saw them on the shelves of a local shop. Such ingredients are a welcome respite to the drudgery that sometimes accompanies picking up the ten thousandth bell pepper to put in the same dish as that millionth zucchini (but I've never quite grown tired of that drudgery anywho!). Are the flowers generally used in soup-like dishes? Was a big fan of flower teas in Sichuan, but I imagine their flavors are easily overpowered by other seasoning/flavors. Also often make use of lavender in my own cooking, but always need to be careful about appropriate use. 


Glad to hear olive oil and butter are at least possible to track down. While I could likely survive without butter, must admit that olive oil is something I would prefer not do without for the long term! I haven't the foggiest about the scientific backing behind the claims, but my mother has long hammered into me the health benefits of olive oil over its less-tasty competitors. 


Excited to get one of those cutting boards, actually! Always see them on TV and have to confess that they look rather awesome. 


Don't tell, but the seeds are already packed! Is window/terrace/balcony farming big in China? Here in Chinatown, balconies turn into places somewhat akin to Eden - a Chinese lady down the street from me has about a dozen squashes as large as my torso growing on her tiny balcony (this has produced more than one cry of anguish from me given my own squash's reluctance to fruit!). Another gentlemen nearby seems to go through several harvests a week. I asked my Chinese friend once and he said that it was rarer back in China since vegetables are so cheap there, yet so expensive here. I'm sure growing Chinese veggies is also part of the allure in a place with few fresh ones.

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Alex --


Are the flowers generally used in soup-like dishes?


I only know how to use two kinds, and I was told the best application for them was scrambled, with eggs. Those two have a very mild flavor that would be easily eclipsed by a stronger companion taste.


There are so many interesting ingredients to try here and on any given day I'm always somewhat conflicted about whether to cook something that I've made and enjoyed before or to pioneer something new that might not be successful until after I have fiddled with it a whole lot.


I asked my Chinese friend once and he said that it was rarer back in China since vegetables are so cheap there, yet so expensive here.


I looked out my windows to the front and back today to casually survey what my neighbors were growing on their balconies. Seems like mostly flowers, though some small herbs could be hidden among them. Might be different in other housing complexes.


Tracking down a wise 阿姨 guide with whom you have some 关系 in a Zhejiang village would definitely be a good move. I've found that older people here really like to explain and teach their ways to members of a younger generation.

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Interesting, pine nuts really are from pine cones, don't know why that didn't seem obvious. I suppose I thought they were just some fancy name for something to make it sound attractive or sort of "artsy" if you see what I mean.


Are any pine cones used or only a specific variety?


Also they look green, not brown and dry like the ones I usually see, do they get picked deliberately green? or is this just how they are?


I guess they aren't really nuts in the allergy sense of nuts, more like seeds. Will need to explore this more.


Edible flowers were used a lot in Tudor and old English cooking. I find it hard to image eating them :shock:

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Shelley --


The pine cones in the market were a strange find to be sure. At first I thought they might just be ornamental. They are definitely green, freshly cut, smell of pine sap. I don't really know how much work would be involved in extracting the seeds. It's my understanding, from talking with the sellers, that the nuts themselves must also be dried and cracked.


One vendor showed me a pine cone with some of the scales cut away to show the seeds in place. Each scale had one or two seeds at its base. He gave me one of the seeds and I tried to chew it. But it was hard as a rock. He laughed and I spit it out.


I read about them a little bit and it seems that not all varieties of pine are equal. Some produce seeds that are small and not worth the trouble. Only the squirrels will bother with those. Others produce seeds that are large and nutritious, but not real tasty. They have some value in a "lost in the woods" survival scenario. And then others are prized for their large, delicious seeds.


So far as I know, they aren't cultivated, and must be found in the wild, which is how the wild mushroom hunters get into the picture. Some kinds of mushroom only grow near the root systems of connifers. So the hunters are clambering around already in the right kind of environment. That proximity to pine imparts a special flavor to the mushroom.


Sometimes I've seen the finished seeds for sale, but not often. Not sure how to use them in Chinese cooking. Back in the US, I used them plenty in making pesto. Home-made pasta, home-grown basil, pine nuts and olive oil. Yum.


This whole Yunnan pine cone/pine nut business is new to me and I don't know much about it. Never a dull moment in Kunming.

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@abcd: your homework assignment for the last bits of summer is to go out and discover flower cuisine, then share your studies with the forum! Dried versus fresh? Soup versus stir fry? Garnish versus integrated? Raw versus cooked? Seek out the secrets and ye shall be rewarded with many accolades! 


Pesto.. Yum! I do know that I can buy either Italian imported or Korean imported pine nuts at the stores here. The Korean ones tend to be much larger with a less powerful flavor, but are considerably cheaper. Perhaps you're seeing the birth of a new industry?

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...your homework assignment for the last bits of summer is to go out and discover flower cuisine, then share your studies with the forum!


Haha! I make no rash promises, but will see what I can do.

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