King Oyster Mushrooms
King Oyster Mushrooms

King Oyster Mushrooms (officially named Pleurotus eryngii) go by quite a lot of different names. You may well encounter them as ‘King Trumpets’, ‘Trumpet Royales’, or even ‘French Horn Mushrooms’, depending on where you live.

The flavor of this variety is not especially remarkable in that they have roughly the same fungi-umami taste you would get from, say, Portobello’s, fresh Shiitake, or even just the plain white Button variety. What is special about them is the texture, which is very meaty and chewy, much like the similar ‘Oyster Mushrooms’ (which are similar, but just haven’t been elevated to ‘royal’ status). They can be lovely in stews or braised dishes, but are also terrific when grilled or pan-fried by themselves with just a little seasoning…

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Dongpo Pork served with Baby Bok Choy
Dongpo Pork served with Baby Bok Choy

The classic Chinese dish, Dong Po Pork, is named after the Chinese poet Su Dongpo, who, by all accounts, loved pork belly prepared this way. The dish is an example of the Chinese technique of ‘red-cooking’ (紅燒), meaning that the main ingredients are braised in a soy sauce based cooking medium. Here, as in the classic Dongpo Pork tradition, aromatics and sugar are added for sweetness, and the slow-cooking of the fatty pork belly makes for a result that is rich, unctuous, and absolutely delicious.

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Cocktail Shrimp Boats
Cocktail Shrimp Boats

The name ‘Cocktail Shrimp Boats’ is a bit of a culinary play on words, as it makes a combination of the two very different terms, ‘cocktail shrimp’, and ‘shrimp cocktail’ The shrimp themselves are the tiny variety usually sold as  ‘cocktail’ shrimp, and, for this recipe, they are served in a version of the ‘cocktail sauce’ that is often served along side cold shrimp or other shellfish. The ‘boats’ of course, are the hollowed out plum tomatoes used as edible containers for the cocktail filling itself…

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A Horseradish Root
A Horseradish Root

This rather gnarly looking object is not a withered old tree branch, but is actually a Horseradish Root, the source of that sharp, pungent white condiment usually only encountered in jars purchased at the supermarket. The purchased varieties are fine to use, as long as you don’t let them age too long, but there are some benefits to using the fresh article that are also worth investigating…

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Dry-fried Green Beans and Bamboo Shoots
Dry-fried Green Beans and Bamboo Shoots

This recipe for Dry-fried Green Beans and Bamboo Shoots is based on a very popular Sichuan dish called ‘Dry-Fried Four-Season Beans’. In that particular dish, the long green beans are first deep-fried in order to make them deliciously crisp-tender, and then pan-fried with other ingredients. Here, bamboo shoots get the same treatment as the beans, and then they are both stir-fried together with ginger, chili, and umami-rich reconstituted dried shrimp.

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Kimchi with Conpoy and Dried Shrimp
Kimchi with Conpoy and Dried Shrimp

Many recipes for Kimchi call for fermenting cabbage, or other vegetables, with some type of seafood in order to add an extra umami dimension. The seafood typically used is often Korean brined-shrimp, but oysters, octopus, and even fish guts are sometimes used. Here, in a twist on the more traditional blends, Conpoy and Dried Shrimp being added as the umami boosters.

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A selection of dried shrimp
A selection of dried shrimp

Do you use dried shrimp in your own kitchen? If not, then you really should think about adding this very versatile foodstuff to your pantry. Like mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, or Conpoy, the drying process highly concentrates the flavors of shrimp and produces a tremendous umami-punch that makes them very useful indeed. If you would like to learn how to prepare and use dried shrimp in recipes, along with tips for buying and storing them, then read on…

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Eggs with Dried Scallops
Eggs with Dried Scallops

Eggs with Dried Scallops, also known as Conpoy, take the very simple dish of basic scrambled eggs to a new level. In China, and across south-east Asia, other ingredients are often included to eggs to add an umami boost. Dried mushrooms or cured ham both work very well, and fish sauce is sometimes used. Here, conpoy, are added to the same effect. To offset the natural sweetness of the dried scallop, a little chili paste is included as well.

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Bok Choy with Dried Scallops
Bok Choy with Dried Scallops

Bok Choy with Dried Scallops is a good illustration of how a simple basic ingredient like can turn an otherwise plain vegetable dish into something special. Bok Choy is the vegetable of choice in this recipe, but the basic idea works well with almost any other greens.

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A package of Dried Scallops (Conpoy)
A package of Dried Scallops (Conpoy)

Dried Scallops are very often used in Chinese cookery, and it is a bit of a shame that relatively few western cooks know how to prepare and use them as they pack a unique flavor punch that is truly exquisite…

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