Prep the sea cucumbers (fresh, dried and frozen require different methods of preparations) then cook in seasoned mushroom soaking water with the shiitake. Add starch solution to thicken the reduced liquid. Chinese-style braised sea cucumbers and shiitake mushrooms make a delicious starter course.
Yes, it’s very much a Chinese dish. Shiitake is black mushroom in Chinese cookbooks but I’m calling them shiitake here because that is the term that most cooks are familiar with. Besides, “black mushroom” can be so confusing since the color varies from beige to brown to black, and the caps may be speckled or not.
Cooking this Chinese-style braised sea cucumbers and shiitake mushrooms starts with rehydrating dried shiitake. Of course you may skip this step entirely if using fresh shiitake. The upside of using dried is that the mushrooms have a more concentrated flavor and the soaking water serves as a good base for making the sauce for the dish.
If using dried mushrooms, soak in water. Anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours depending on their size. The larger the mushrooms, the longer it takes for both the caps and stems to soften.
When soft enough, snip off the stems. You won’t be needing them.
While soaking the mushrooms, prep the sea cucumbers. How much prepping they need depends on whether you bought them fresh, frozen or dried (more on that in the sea cucumber post).
Once cleaned and rehydrated, if using dried, boil the sea cucumbers in water with a few slices of ginger to remove the strong fishy smell.
Drain the sea cucumbers, rinse in running water until cool to the touch then cut into bite-size pieces.
Hopefully, by the the time the sea cucumbers are prepped, the mushrooms will be ready for cooking too.
You heat a couple of tablespoonfuls of oil in a wok and saute smashed garlic, sliced ginger and a shallot in it until the aroma going around in your kitchen makes you terribly hungry.
Next, you add the shiitake and sea cucumber to the aromatics. You stir fry until everything is coated with oil.
Pour in the strained liquid in which the mushrooms were soaked.
The seasonings come next. Soy sauce, salt (too much soy sauce will make the dish too dark) black pepper, sugar and oyster sauce. Bring everything to the boil, cover the wok, lower the heat and braise the sea cucumbers and mushrooms until tender.
Finally, you add starch dispersed in more of the mushroom soaking water and continue cooking until the reduced cooking liquid has thickened and cleared.
Blackish-brown sea cucumbers and shiitake with a brown sauce won’t look too appetizing. Add color by serving the braised sea cucumbers and shiitake mushrooms with blanched broccoli florets. Hot tea on the side is always a good idea.
Chinese-style Braised Sea Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms
- 10 to 12 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 300 grams sea cucumbers (click the link for instructions on preparation)
- 6 to 8 slices ginger divided
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
- 1 to 2 shallots peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon tapioca starch or corn starch
- salt to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon sesame seed oil
- 1 head broccoli broken into florets and blanched in salted water
Prep the shiitake
Place the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and pour in warm water. Soak for 15 minutes, flip them over and soak for 15 minutes more (soaking them for as long as three hours won't hurt).
Snip off the stems of the shiitake and discard. Cut the caps into halves if large. You want bite-size pieces.
Strain the liquid in which the mushrooms have soaked. You will need about three cups.
Pre-cook the sea cucumbers
While the shiitake mushrooms rehydrate, rinse the sea cucumbers and make sure the cavities are clean.
Drop the sea cucumbers into a pot, add half of the ginger and cover with water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover the pot and cook the sea cucumbers with the ginger for 15 to 20 minutes to remove the strong fishy odor.
Drain the sea cucumbers, rinse under the tap (or plunge in an ice bath) then cut into bite-size pieces.
Braise the sea cucumbers and shiitake
Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan.
Saute the remaining ginger, all of the garlic and shallot(s) in the oil until fragrant.
Turn up the heat. Add the shiitake and sea cucumbers. Stir fry until every piece is coated with oil.
Reserve a quarter cup of the mushroom liquid and pour the rest into the wok with the sea cucumbers and mushrooms.
Stir in the soy sauce, pepper, sugar and oyster sauce. Bring to the boil. Set the heat to low, cover the wok and cook the sea cucumbers and mushrooms until tender and the liquid is reduced to less than half.
Stir the starch in the reserved mushroom liquid.
Pour the starch solution into the wok. Cook, stirring, until the sauce is thick and clear. Taste. Add salt, as needed.
Off the heat, drizzle in the sesame seed oil and toss everything to blend.
Assemble the dish
Arrange the blanched broccoli florets on one side of a serving platter. Ladle your delicious Chinese-style braised sea cucumbers and shiitake mushrooms, with the sauce, on the opposite side.
Serve at once.