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DRIED SEAFOOD and other dried foods in Chinese groceries--request for an introduction

We've all probably seen the immense array of dried shrimp, scallops, and other seafood, as well as dried mushrooms, offered in Chinese markets. I've been walking past these displays for years but have never purchased anything except the occasional dried shitake. I've no idea what many of these items are in the first place! And why the huge price differential with scallops, for example?

I am an avid home cook, but my dishes are almost always in the European tradition. But I imagine that many of these dried ingredients could be used as flavor boosters in non-Asian dishes. Curious if other CHers use them in this way, or do you buy these often pricey dried ingredients solely for use in Chinese home cooking?

Please enlighten me...these displays look like a wonderland of goodness and I would like to partake!

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  1. I always have a pack of 'Prophpase Kelp slices', dried and thin, I scissor slivers in to my noodle cooking water. you can then have a bowl of noodles meaty or fishy and the kelp will add
    an interesting texture and savoury taste to your dish.

    Also I have small packets of dried seaweed which are little blocks and ten mins in
    hot water blossom out, they are a bit more challenging as they look as though they
    could swim, but again are equally savoury.

    In all, dried seaweed is cheap, healthy and tastes good.

    Dried mushrooms are very good, the Italians love them, and I do too.

    they will improve any casserole .

    Let Google be your friend.. Good luck.

    My next trick will be to gather fresh seaweed when camping in Brittany

    1 Reply
    1. re: Naguere

      When I saw all the stranded seaweed when I was Brittany, I was wondering why no one was harvesting it. It looked fresh enough to eat!

    2. Previous discussion on same topic here with lots of good info.

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/847624

      3 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        I did read that other thread, thanks. But I am looking for more specific applications of these items in non-Asian cooking.

        Naguere: I am aware of the uses of dried mushrooms and often cook with dried porcini, morels, shitake, etc I am asking here about items to be found in markets in overseas Chinatowns.
        Is seaweed often used in Chinese cooking? In my limited experience, I've seen it only in a few Shanghai dishes, most often in a batter for fried fish.

        1. re: erica

          Well, I use dried sea cucumbers (after rehydrating them) in meatloaf and meatballs. See my previous thread here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/739904

          Dried conpoy is great in chicken soup, as well as marinara sauce (scoop them out before serving, not for eating).

          1. re: erica

            I see seaweed a lot in xiao tsai - small, vegetable side dishes. And various sea vegetables are used in salads, both fresh and rehydrated.

        2. Of the dried seafoods - dried shrimp, dried scallops, dried oysters, dried fish and salted dried fish - dried shrimp is your best bet to experiment with and use in a wide variety of dishes.

          A little dried shrimp, about 1 tablespoons, is enough to add unami to a dish and an extra boost of flavor without being overly fishy. You can try it in broth based seafood dishes, such as, clam chowder, cioppino or paella.

          Soak for about an hour and mince. The soaking just softens the dried shrimp enough to mince.

          1 Reply
          1. re: chow_fun

            Thanks for that tip! While I usually have a package of dried shrimp on hand for Asian dishes, I never thought to use it in chowders, cioppino, or paella.

          2. Dried shrimp—called camarón seco in Spanish—is used for soup (caldo de camarón seco) and for a special croquette made for Lenten Fridays called tortitas de camarón. (This is either served with romeritos en mole—a sour herb that looks like rosemary but tastes like iron-y spinach—or with tomato sauce and nopalitos.)

            You can buy them whole or ground in Mexican markets.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              Thanks, all, for the tips. On the dried shrimp, I remember bringing back a bag from Tehuantepec in my pre-CH days. The contents of that bag, transferred into a glass jar, must have lived in my cupboard for 10 years before I threw it out. I was clueless on how to use! Not a chance that that would happen now, thanks to the the goodness of CH!

            2. I've had reconstituted dried abalone and it is quite good. I would not have the first idea how to make it, however.

              1. I would love to know what to do with dried flattened duck. It's a duck! I love duck! I must have it! But what in the world do I do with once I get it?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Mer_Made

                  Its been years, but I used to buy the dried duck leg and cook it with rice (regular rice recipe with an added leg). Lends good flavor plus rehydrates the meat in the process.

                  Haven't used the whole bird....

                2. Have neat little Asian market almost within walking distance. Saw either Yan or Ming make miso soup and decided to give it a whirl. All of the ingredients available at this store... miso paste, dried sea weed, dried bonito flakes. Figuring the ingredients don't sit around on shelf long. Miso was a bit pricey... but I understand it has pretty much an indefinitely shelf-life in fridge?? LOVED that flavor by itself. But broth was overwhelmingly FISHY... not something I like but imagine it's a cultural preferrence?!?

                  1. Has anyone ever bought/used the dried squid &/or cuttlefish?

                    Some of them are huge, & dried whole & completely flat, packed in plastic bags.

                    5 Replies
                      1. re: Bacardi1

                        I regularly buy the snack-type cuttlefish. Usually japanese, sometimes spicy, looks like this
                        http://cdn2.mixrmedia.com/wp-uploads/...
                        and quite tasty.
                        But I'm guessing you're talking about something more like this
                        http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:AN...
                        which I'd be interested in learning more about.

                        Around Chinese New Years, my fav cantonese restaurant usually has "scallops with hair"; a dish of reconstituted dry scallop cooked with a black, hairlike fungus. It is quite a novelty and somewhat expensive and I order it everytime its available. However, for my likes and dislikes, I would prefer a fresh scallop and I think the dish is overpriced. Why do I always order it? I dunno...I think the novelty, I think the tradition, I think the "seasonality".

                        I hope this thread really goes somewhere and someone chimes in to say "buy a pound of dried XXX, reconstitute like this _______, saute with YYYY, and it'll knock your socks off"

                        1. re: porker

                          Yes, it's the 2nd photo of the big brown flat guy that I'm interested in. Was just wondering how it reconstitutes & what its taste/texture is - Chewy? Slippery? Fishy?

                          1. re: Bacardi1

                            Now that I think of it, we used to get a seafood cantonese chowmein which included this (described as "two kinds of squid"). It was chewy - quite chewy, but the flavor itself was somewhat mild, at least more so than fresh cuttlefish. Mrs Porker detested it, but I liked it. Not necessarily as in give me a whole dish of it, but it was not bad.

                          2. re: porker

                            i went to a fair up in the mountains of japan. they had charcoal grilled cuttlefish on a stick, i rember the tentacles were cheaper than the body. grilled corn with teriaki sauce was good, too.
                            their fish distribution is amazing. a guy had a wooden bucket with a live cuttlefish swimming around way up in the mountains.

                        2. Interesting topic. I cook Chinese as well as other cuisines, and have accumulated a huge collection of Chinese dried foods (and even then, mostly essentials!) in my kitchen. It will be helpful to learn about how to incorporate them in other cuisines so that I can get a faster turnover, and get more value for the space they take up.

                          I have made pantry-friendly seafood risotto with dried shrimp, dried scallops, peas, romano cheese and cream, and seasoned with a touch of bonito extract and nuoc mam, Quite good for what it was. For the shrimp and dried scallops, soak in water until you can easily chop up the shrimp (if it is too big) and separate the scallops into threads with the whack of your cleaver. Lightly sautee them with butter or olive oil before adding in the risotto.

                          Along the same lines, I like topping lightly garlic-and-olive-oil-dressed pasta with toasted dried shrimp eggs (my vice of the moment), just like how people would use botargo/bottarga. Sprinkle with a touch of lemon juice and it makes a simple but delicious dish.

                          1. Dried scallops, though hugely expensive, have a great intense flavour. I used to make a very simple dish of braised lettuce and onions, adding some dried scallops for the last few minutes (I let them soak in warm water first).

                            1. I have a paperback bought on Amazon, The Asian Grocery Store Demystified. It explains the range of products typically found in such stores, and how they can be used.