While most foods are eaten for flavor, there are many foods that are eaten mainly for texture. A few of them have been featured on Wreckless Eating, and while they may have had some sort of flavor, if prepared properly, they are supposed to be neutral. So here’s how we messed it up.
Let’s start with jellyfish. I always look for this when I look through a Chinese restaurant’s appetizer menu. Jellyfish is usually sold in salted form. To prepare it, you soak it in water and keep changing the water hourly until all the salt is removed. It can take days to remove all the salt. After the salt is removed, it gets a quick blanch in boiling water to cook it, then it is cooled, sliced and seasoned, usually in a soy sauce and sesame oil base. The jellyfish itself has no flavor at all if prepared like this. It is eaten for its texture. It is slightly gelatinous on the outside, but crunchy on the inside and absorbs the flavor of the sauce. It is usually served with small slivers of celery as the textures are similar. So what went wrong during the main show? First off, it had no dressing. The color was a bit off, and it was the factory prepared variety. One rule of thumb when buying Chinese goods is never to trust the factory to do the prep work. In this case, the result was a very rubbery texture that turned out to be inedible. My guess is that while it was desalinated, it still needed extra cooking time to give it that crunch. If there is a second attempt at this, it will be salted and straight from the pack, with no relief from the enormous amount of salt. Why? If jellyfish is going to be done wrong, it needs to be done very wrong.
Sea cucumber is actually quite common in Chinese cuisine. You won’t see on the menu unless you’re at more upscale Chinese seafood restaurants. While I don’t mind eating it, I tend to avoid it because it’s expensive and has no taste. I’ve had this many times and it seems to be a mainstay of the banquet menu. There are two types of sea cucumber that you’ll run across in restaurants-live and preserved. The live stuff is very rare. It’s soft and slimy, looks like an alien penis, and pukes its guts out if you squeeze it too hard. Prep is pretty easy for a live one. You just slice it open, scoop out the creamy center, and then you start the washing/boiling process which has to be repeated several times. Sea cucumbers don’t taste like anything. They absorb the flavor of whatever they’re cooked with, so they’re usually cooked with crab meat. The funny thing here is that they’re just as expensive as crabs, so you’re not saving any money by ordering it. You’re just showing off that you can afford to order an exotic sea creature that is very expensive. If you watched the main show episode 10, that was the preserved variety of sea cucumber. They are dried after being caught-the market will do the soaking/boiling/rehydration process for you. The biggest problem with the dried variety is the extra prep it takes to get them ready for eating. The insides have to be removed and extra washing/boiling is needed to get rid of the remnants of the innards, which will make the sea cucumber taste like dirt.
Lastly, there is black fungus, which is also known as wood ear. This is a very common item. I keep some in my kitchen at all times. It is sold dried and needs to be soaked in water for 20-30 minutes before use. It has a very crunchy texture and not much flavor at all. The most common use in Chinese cuisine is hot and sour soup or any kind of Moo Shu dish. It also makes an appearance in Japanese seaweed salad, though it’s more of a substitute for cucumbers in the prepackaged variety as cucumbers do not stand up well to being frozen. As you saw in a recent WE shorts, it was eaten straight from the package without being soaked in water. Luckily, it was pre-sliced or there would have been no way for anyone to swallow any of it.