Wood ear, jellyfish and prosciutto salad
My wonderful mother sent me a care package from Hong Kong last week of dried wood ear mushrooms. You can actually buy these in most Chinese supermarkets but the ones she found have been ingeniously ‘shrunk-dried’ into tiny packages the size of a matchbox. Add hot water and hey presto, a large bowl of mushrooms explode out of seemingly nowhere.
It reminds me of those magic towels I was given as a child, where a compressed capsule the size of a ping pong ball would unfurl into a generously proportioned beach towel with a little watery encouragement. It was the same principle, though the results were not quite as delicious.
This exciting gift dovetailed with my discovery of jellyfish that is packed in whole unsliced pieces and preserved in brine. Having found other pre-packaged varieties of jellyfish rather disappointing (the jellyfish strands lacked texture and were accompanied by the chemically taste of artificial preservatives) this was a real find. Once opened, the jellyfish requires a good soaking in clean water for 3-5 hours, but the results are the best I have found so far in London.
The salad below is a celebration of all things crunchy, bouncy, crisp and clean, with a little ham to add a savoury undertone. In Hong Kong I would use wafer thin slices of Yunnan ham, but Italian prosciutto works well too.
250g wood ear mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water, strained
jellyfish, half as much as mushrooms, sliced into thin strips
1 rib celery (not a tough outer one) sliced into thin strips
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 slices prosciutto, sliced into thin strips
toasted white and black sesame seeds
What to do
Give the wood ear mushrooms a good shake to remove any excess water, or dab lightly with kitchen roll. Break up any larger mushrooms into bite sized pieces. Toss all the ingredients together except for sesame seeds, ham and salt, then cover and leave to chill in the fridge for a few hours.
When the salad is cool and crunchy, toss in the prosciutto and sesame seeds and check the seasoning is to your liking. I usually add a sprinkling of salt to lift the flavours without overpowering them with too much soy sauce. The finished salad should be lightly sour, quietly nutty, and above all full of lively, tasty textures.