I promised you a couple of crowd pleasers, and this dish is definitely one of them. Provided, of course, that you like mushrooms. The recipe I want to share with you today features no less than four different types, though really, I urge you to experiment with them all. Mushrooms are fascinating, occasionally exotic, and just a bit dangerous if you dare to pick them yourself (please don’t, unless you know what you’re doing). And their best feature — at least for this dish? They absorb all sorts of crazy things, if you give them a chance. Like bacon fat. Beautiful, smoky, gorgeous (antibiotic free, humanely produced) bacon fat.
Back in high school, I spent a summer working at the UCSB Medicinal Plant Garden, digging holes and learning about the unbelievably complex makeup of each species we helped raise. Fungi were one of the more memorable parts of the curriculum. They really are quite fascinating creatures — scavengers of the plant world, beneficial or devastating depending on their individual evolutionary path. The edible ones tend to be full of vitamins and protein, depending on the variety, and are savory and complex — the very essence of umami. They’re made up of all sorts of good amino acids, including glutamic acid, which (as Harold McGee points out) makes them nature’s own MSG.
But I’m getting sidetracked. My point? Umami is an important — no, essential — aspect of Chinese cuisine. Mushrooms — shitake, oyster, and various other varieties — are often used to contribute a rich, meaty flavor to a given dish. This recipe — featuring nature’s perfect umami creation and smoky, golden bacon — simply takes advantage of the best properties of both ingredients. And it gives you the opportunity to experiment a little, too.