This super simple, lightning quick way of preparing mushrooms is a staple recipe in Southwestern China. In Yunnan Province, where I used to live, hundreds of varieties of mushrooms are foraged from the mountains in the late summer and fall.
Cooks prepare them in a lot of ways, but the most common is to throw them into a wok for a quick stir-fry with either dried red chiles or fresh (searingly spicy) green chiles. I’m partial to the dried chile version because it really brings out the flavor of the mushrooms.
It’s fantastic paired with other Chinese dishes like a ginger-beef stir fry or a whole steamed fish, but it’s also flavorful enough to use as a vegetarian main with other vegetable side dishes, such as a Chinese cucumber salad or Sichuan-style long beans.
Making a Traditional Recipe My Own
The traditional way to prepare this dish is to just stir-fry the mushrooms and some garlic with a bit of oil and a big handful of dried chiles, then add a touch of soy sauce to pump up their savory flavor.
At home in the States, I’ve found that when I’m not cooking with a wok (or even with a good wok stove), my garlic can sometimes stick to the bottom of the pan and start to burn while the mushrooms cook, so I’ve adapted the traditional recipe by infusing the cooking oil with a lot of extra garlic and then removing it from the oil. I also like to add some good chile oil (or chile crisp) at the end of cooking instead of using whole dried chiles.
Choosing and Preparing Maitakes
Maitake mushrooms—also known as hen of the woods mushrooms—grow in a number of places all over the world, so they’re easy to find in summer and fall. They grow in big clusters of grey, frond-like pieces, and their shape reminds me a bit of sea coral.
To get the freshest ones, make sure they’re not limp and wilted, and check the stem-ends for damp spots or mold.
I like to buy maitakes in big clumps, before they get broken into small pieces, but if you do this, you’ll likely need to trim off the bottom of the largest clusters, where the many pieces meet, especially if there are any dry spots or a thick layer where they’re connected. But don’t cut all the way to where the mushroom caps (the parts that look like fronds) meet. Instead, use your hand to pull them apart into small clusters.
Once you have clusters the size you want them, wash them gently in cool water, and pat them dry with an absorbent kitchen towel (or paper towels). You can even press on them gently to remove moisture if needed.
Making Homemade Chile Oil
You can buy all kinds of chile oils and chile crisps at Asian markets (and at many supermarkets), but it’s almost easier to make your own. There are a couple of methods:
Method 1: Put about 1/4 cup of Chinese dried chile flakes and a pinch of salt (and maybe some minced ginger and shallot) in a sturdy, heat-proof container, like a metal bowl. Heat up oil until it’s very hot, and pour the oil into the chile flakes.
How will you know if the oil is hot enough? You can try sticking a wooden chopstick into the oil; the chopstick should produce lots of tiny bubbles in a strong, steady stream. You can also use a high-temperature thermometer and see when the oil gets close to 300°F.
Method 2: Another way—the one I use most frequently, because it’s popular in Yunnan—is to cook the chile flakes directly in the oil. Add your chile flakes, a pinch of salt, and possibly a couple pinches of Sichuan peppercorn to a small pot, cover it with the oil, and cook it over medium heat, stirring with a metal spoon, until all of the chile flakes (including the ones in the middle of the pot) have just started fizzling in the oil. Remove the pot from the heat immediately; the chile flakes will continue to cook as they cool, so keep stirring, and if it looks like they’re browning (or might burn), transfer them to a heat-proof container.
Using Other Mushrooms
I most often make this recipe with maitakes (which are called "ash tree flowers" in Mandarin), because you can just pull them apart into small clusters, but it works with any mushrooms—in Yunnan China local porcinis are often used (if using, skip the soy sauce entirely)!
If you want to try this recipe with other mushrooms, cut them into thick slices (about 1/4 inch), then proceed with the rest of the recipe, but add the soy sauce little by little, tasting as you go. Some types of mushrooms will need more of a boost, some will need less.
This recipe is not well suited to certain specialty mushrooms, like morels and chanterelles, that have a distinctive, lighter flavor that wouldn’t work well with soy sauce.
More Simple & Satisfying Stir-Fries
Stir-Fried Maitake Mushrooms with Garlic and Chile Oil
1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce
2 tablespoons cool water (if needed)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic (from about 6 cloves)
12 ounces (about 5 very loosely packed cups) maitake mushrooms, pulled into small 2-inch chunks
1-2 teaspoons chile oil (see method in article above) or chile crisp
Prep the ingredients:
Place the soy sauce in a small bowl. Place the water in a separate small bowl and set both aside.
Cook the garlic:
Heat the oil in a wok (or a large skillet) over high heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic, and cook, stirring frequently with a wok shovel or a wooden spoon, until it is golden and just beginning to turn light brown, about 1 minute.
Use a slotted spoon (or just your stirring spoon) to remove the garlic from the pan, leaving the oil. Set the garlic aside.
Cook the mushrooms:
Add the mushrooms to the oil and stir-fry them—flipping and stirring occasionally and pressing them against the sides of the wok for 20 to 30 seconds at a time, so they brown a bit—for 3 minutes total.
If the mushrooms are browning quickly but are not beginning to wilt, drizzle in the water, to help them soften.
Add soy sauce to the mushrooms:
Drizzle the soy sauce over the mushrooms, then continue to cook them for another 2 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed, and the mushrooms look soft and tender.
Add the chile oil:
Drizzle in the chile oil and mix everything well.
Start with the lower amount if you’re worried about the spice level, then taste and add more as desired. If you really like garlic, add about half of the cooked garlic back into the pan (but do so judiciously!)
Transfer the mushrooms to a serving bowl, and enjoy while hot with rice and other Chinese dishes.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 13g||17%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||5%|
|Total Carbohydrate 13g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||10%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 4mg||21%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|