One of my favorite ways to eat steamed vegetables is with a braised mushroom sauce. To my omnivorean palate, mushrooms are a good substitute for meaty flavor when you want a vegetarian dish.
But there’s sometimes a dilemma when Westerners cook Chinese dishes that involve mushrooms, especially shiitakes. When Chinese cooks do braises or soups, most of the time they will use dried mushrooms, favoring the more complex flavor profile. The sun-drying process for shiitakes draws out the strong umami flavor.
As Westerners, however, we’ve been taught that fresh ingredients (almost) always tastes better than its dried equivalent. And many Westerners (Jacob, for example) don’t like the chewy texture of dried mushrooms or think the soak-to-rehydrate preparation is too much of a hassle.
I’ve tried the following recipe for baby bok choy with both dried and fresh mushrooms, and I have to say I like the fresh version slightly better. In dishes where ingredients are few and the mushroom texture stands out, my opinion is that plump and juicy fresh shiitakes win out. However, in dishes that have a lot of ingredients like Buddha’s Delight, dried mushrooms lend a valuable umami flavor to rest of the dish.
Baby Bok Choy with Braised Shiitake Sauce
Serves 4 as a side dish
- 5 or 6 large shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried
- 15 mL (1 tablespoon) vegetable oil
- 10 baby bok choy, halved lengthwise
- 10 mL (2 teaspoons) cornstarch
- 30 mL (2 tablespoons) water
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 30 mL (2 tablespoons) soy sauce
- 15 mL (1 tablespoon) oyster sauce*
- 15 mL (1 tablespoon) Asian sesame oil
- 10 mL (2 teaspoons) sugar
- 1 3-cm slice of peeled ginger, sliced into very thin matchstick-wide strips
Special equipment: Bamboo steamers or another method of steaming (See Step 2).
- If using dried shiitakes: Pour enough hot water over the shiitakes to cover. Let them soak until soft, about 45 minutes. Drain, squeeze to remove excess water. If using fresh mushrooms, go directly to step 2.
- Cut off the mushroom stems and discard. Slice the caps into thin strips.
- To steam the veggies: Set up bamboo steamers in a wok or large pot with 1 to 2 inches of water. Make sure the water does not touch the vegetables when they’re in the baskets. Steam for 5 minutes or until just cooked. Other ways to steam: rice cooker with a built-in steaming compartment, or a veggie steamer.
- Whisk the cornstarch with the water in a bowl. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Add shiitakes; stir 1 minute. Add broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low or until the mixture is at a simmer.
- Stir in the starch mixture. Cook until sauce thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over bok choy; garnish with ginger on top.
Adapted from Bon Appétit