Thursday, January 22, 2015


Many Pinoy kids who encounter their first black fungus mixed with their pancit will be told that it's tenga ng daga or  rat's ear. That's according to Nanay Juaning, our four-foot yaya  and cook who loved to tell tall tales. I believed her. Horrors! I imagined Mickey Mouse getting his ears cut off in the palengke (wet market) and decided not to eat it for a few years until my genius cousin told me they were actually mushrooms.
Don't take my ears of, please!
This gelatinous black-brown delicacy is Auricularia polytricha or cloud ear fungus that grows in clusters on rotting branches and twigs and on decaying stumps and logs in wet areas. It's called wood ear or tree ear by the Chinese, the Japanese describe it as "rough-haired tree jelly" and the Hawaiians call it pepeiao which roughly means "ears."

The woody mushroom is harvested and dried before it is sold in the market, usually by the kilo. I found this 25 gram packet in the supermarket, just about the size of a matchbox.
Rat's ears in a box
Before cooking, the dried mushroom must be re-hydrated by soaking in water for about 30 minutes. You know it's ready when the fungus expands, turns soft and takes on a translucent, jelly-like appearance. You can use hot water (boiling, even) to lessen the soak time to 15 minutes. Remember to cut off the woody parts and slice the bigger pieces. The small packet will give about a plateful, just enough for one dish of stir-fried noodles or stew.
When cooked, despite the gelatinous texture, it remains crunchy like cartilage (almost like pig's ears) and there's a small snap when you bite into it.  Like any mushroom, generally remains slightly woody, but takes on a slight hint of the sauce that it gets cooked in.

And please, don't tell the kids it's Mickey ears.

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