The first time I had vegetarian escargot, I couldn’t believe how much the taste, texture and appearance resembled the real thing. It was more than 20 years ago, and it was from a vegetarian restaurant that didn’t use any of the faux meats and meat substitutes to create their dishes. Instead, they used real vegetable ingredients and quite a bit of creativity to make their menu more diverse. One of their other creations was a vegetarian squid tentacle dish made with enoki mushrooms, but that is another story.
After I had that dish, I immediately went home and tried to recreate it. It was somewhat successful but didn’t have the correct texture because I had dredged the mushrooms in flour instead of cornstarch. When I retested with cornstarch, it was a success. The fried mushrooms retained its crispy exterior, while the long poaching had created a tender interior with just a bit of resistance to the bite.
I had a comment in one of my previous videos that I shouldn’t soak shiitake mushrooms for too long because they would lose their flavour. I’ve not actually encountered that problem when I buy good quality mushrooms, although I’ve chosen really small ones for this recipe. Albeit smaller than the ones I usually buy for other recipes, these plumped up thick after soaking.
Be sure to braise the mushrooms until they are tender. Then discard the stems and marinate the caps with the seasoning. The marinating makes a huge difference in bringing out the flavour of the mushrooms. When all the seasoning has absorbed into the mushrooms and they are no longer wet, dredge the caps in cornstarch and then deep-fry them immediately.
The dressing is quite a basic one for many Chinese dishes except I had used a vegetarian oyster sauce instead of the regular one. If there is no vegetarian requirement in your house then you may use regular oyster sauce. Also, you may deglaze the pan with Shaoxing wine if you don’t have to be strictly vegetarian. When the mushroom infusion is in the pan, you may add hair moss at this juncture if you wish to make the dish even more festive for the Chinese New Year.
After the dressing is poured over the fried mushrooms, serve immediately to retain their crispiness. Leftovers, although limp, will still taste amazing because the flavour of the marinated mushrooms gets more evened out and leached into the surrounding vegetables.
- 30 small dried shiitake mushrooms
- 2 cups water
- 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
- ½ stick carrot, cut into chunks
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp sugar
- 1 tsp cooking oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 3 cups cooking oil
- 1 knob fresh ginger, finely diced
- 2 bulbs shallots, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 10g hair moss (optional)
- 1 tsp soy sauce to taste
- 2 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce to taste
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 spring coriander
- Soak mushrooms in 2 cups of water overnight until plumped up. Stew mushrooms over low heat for 2 hours until liquid is reduced by half. Alternatively, braise in a pressure cooker for 40 minutes. Reserve the mushroom infusion for the dressing.
- When cooled, squeeze out the liquid from the mushrooms, discard the stems, and marinate the mushrooms with all the seasoning ingredients for about 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil with salt, sugar and cooking oil.
- Drop in broccoli florets in batches and poach for about 3-5 minutes until vegetables are soft, then immediately plunge into cold water to stop its cooking so that broccoli remains bright green. Repeat with remaining florets. Arrange poached broccoli in a ring around the rim of a large platter.
- Cook carrots the same way, except you don't have to plunge into cold water because they won't lose their colour. Arrange carrots in a ring inside the ring of broccoli.
- Dredge the marinated mushrooms in cornstarch until well coated. Heat the cooking oil in a fryer and deep-fry the mushrooms in batches until light golden. Drain excess oil on paper towels, and continue frying remaining mushrooms. Arrange fried mushrooms in a heap in the centre of the platter surrounded by the rings of vegetables.
- For the dressing, heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil (you may use the frying oil) and toss in ginger, shallots and garlic to sauté until wilted but not brown. Deglaze with mushroom infusion and bring to a boil. Add hair moss if desired. Add vegetarian oyster sauce and soy sauce to taste, then thicken with the cornstarch slurry and bring to a boil. Pour dressing over mushrooms and vegetables and serve immediately.