Not very convincing by looks, 'wood ears' cooked with pork and nam yue is a very tasty home dish not found in restaurants.
Ew. Does look like an ear. Woods' ear. Wood ear I mean.
Not exactly pretty, wood ears are crunchy and tasteless so they take in the flavor of the ingredients they are cooked with.
'Wood ears' are fungus, like mushrooms, and they grow on wood and without much imagination, they look like ears.
A smaller, more delicate type of edible fungus similar to wood ears is cloud ears. Because cloud ears are thinner and more delicate, they are used in quick stir fries and vegetarian baos while wood ears are stewed. Both types of 'ears' are usually sold dried although the wood ears in these photos are fresh. It's the first time I cooked fresh wood ears and they turned out exactly like the dried ones except fresh 'ears' are fresher. Duh.
Many Chinese herbalists and medicine shops swear by the medical benefits of eating wood ears. Among the miracles wood ears supposedly can do for your body are lowering of cholesterol, blood pressure and the whole works it seems. Personally I eat wood ears for the crunch and the fact that they have lots of fibre and hardly any calories. So yes, like kelp, wood ears are good fillers for days when you are hungry but you weigh more than before you went on the diet and you look like a blimp even when you stand sideways.
Traditionally the meat for this dish is belly pork but if that's too oily for you, or pork isn't your kind of meat, use chicken thighs. I would leave the skin on but trim off the thick, fat-padded parts.
Nam Yue Pork & Wood Ears (serves 4)
400 g pork belly with skin, in 2 cm-thick slices
300 g fresh wood ears (or 50-70 g dried*)
2 pieces nam yue (use less and add more later if necessary)
4-5 T nam yue sauce (the soaking liquid)
1/4 bulb garlic, unpeeled & smashed
1/3 cup water
* soak in water for 15 minutes, pick away the stems and wash several times. Tear into smaller pieces. Do same with the fresh wood ears.
1. Heat a casserole glass pot and add the pork without oil. Fry until the pork has turned white.
2. Add the nam yue, mashing them, and stir into the meat, about 1-2 minutes. Add the nam yue liquid and stir another 1-2 minutes and then add the water, stirring to mix well. Do not add more water as the pork'll give out liquid too. Cover and let simmer for about 45 to 60 minutes (stir in between) without adding anymore water unless all the water has dried up which is unlikely with a glass pot. If using dried wood ears, add them when the pork is 90% tender. If using fresh wood ears, add them when the pork is done because the fresh wood ears can turn too soft. Stir through, let it come to a boil and switch the heat off. Let the stew sit for at least 5 minutes for the sauce to permeate the pork and wood ears.
3. Re-heat the stew and serve hot with plain rice.