Dried Black Mushrooms vs Fresh Shiitakes
Back in my youth, black mushrooms on a Chinese menu inevitably meant reconstituted dried mushrooms. I still remember the first fresh shiitakes I ever ate – in 1983 or 84, at a Japanese Oriental restaurant whose Korean owner/chef grew them himself.
Now fresh shiitakes are common in all sorts of Asian restaurants. Recently, however, I ordered a black mushroom and baby bok choy dish at a local Chinese restaurant and the baby veggies were partly covered with a mound of old-school dried black mushrooms. It was a lovely dish, full of umami.
A few weeks later, at the same restaurant with friends, I ordered the same dish. Only this time, the mushrooms were fresh shiitakes. It was still good, but I found myself missing the intensity of the dried ‘shrooms.
So what do you think? Is one better than the other? Do you prefer one? Should restaurants distinguish between the two?
I can only compare dried shiitakes to fresh, rather than 2 different types. Both dry and fresh have their place. Reconstituting the dry ones gives you the liquid which can be used to really intensify the overall flavor - perfect for broths, fried rice, etc. But I would use fresh for salads, basically anything served raw. Pan fried/wokked with vegetables is kinda in the middle - I've used both - but I think I still prefer the dried, with even a touch of the liquid.
There is a big difference between the pre-sliced dried shiitake and the whole dried ones. I buy the pre-sliced for quick reconstituting in the instant soups I drink (osuimono, ochazuke), but prefer the whole ones for cooking use. The whole ones take much longer to reconstitute, but produce much more flavor than the pre-sliced ones.
I do think a restaurant should identify a fresh shiitake as such. And to me, admittedly an older fogey, a black mushroom is always a reconstituted dried one (even though I'm pretty sure it's the same shroom). I think applehome is right. Each has its own place, and in the classic Chinese kitchen, it's generally going to be the black (dried) mushroom. I think they're a fabulous pantry item - keeps a long time, always available.
I'm in the Pacific NW. To me dried black mushroom means someone is going to be feeding me a wood ear mushroom. I'm only keen on them in hot and sour soup, frankly. So yeah, I definitely think a restaurant should distinguish between those and shiitakes.
Fortunately, fresh shiitakes aren't such a luxury food anymore, and so I don't care so much if a restaurant menu specifies dried or fresh. Both have their place!