南北杏木瓜炖雪耳 Double-boiled White Jelly Fungus with Papaya
南北杏木瓜炖雪耳, double boiled white jelly fungus with papaya and apricot kernels is an immensely popular Cantonese 糖水 dessert and easily one of my favorites! Not only does it tastes good, it is also also almost effortless to prepare! I remember vividly when I first had it on my very first trip to Hong Kong more than 10 years back. Accustomed to eating papaya raw then, I was very much intrigued to see it being cooked into a dessert when I first saw it. And boy o’ boy it was addictive! Since then, it has become a dessert which is cooked very frequently at home. Its good eaten warm, but I absolutely love it chilled overnight. Great for the current “summertime” weather!
Half a rosette of white jelly fungus – Tremella fuciformis 银耳/雪耳/白木耳
1/2 tbsp of sweet/southern apricot kernels 南杏
2 tbsp of bitter/northern apricot kernels 北杏
1 medium-sized papaya 木瓜
Rock sugar to taste 冰糖
A tbsp wolfberries 枸杞子(optional)
5-8 candied winter-melon strips 冬瓜糖 (optional)
3-4 pandan leaves, rinsed and tied into a knot (optional)
As you can see, the proportions are not given to great detail. In fact they are hardly given at all! Those who love to fiddle with the weighing scale scale would probably frown at the sight of this “recipe”. But I simply love its “free-spirited” quality!
Soak dried white jelly fungus in tap water to soften. Rub gently to dislodge any dirt, debris, impurities trapped within. The rosette would plump up quite considerably, likening dry wakame seaweed in water. Fresh fungus does not require soaking. But a quick rinse should do them good. Discard the soaking water. Soak and rinse again. Repeat this step until the soaking water becomes clear. Remove the central “stalk” which is harder and more fibrous. Snip with scissors into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Remove skin from papaya. Gouge and remove seeds and inner fibrous membrane with a teaspoon. Cut into appro. 2 cm cubes.
Rinse the apricot kernels and add them into a pot of water. Bring a boil and add knotted pandan leaves if using. Lower heat, add rock sugar and continue to simmer under low heat for another 15- 20 min to allow the “almondy” flavours to infuse.
Remove pandan leaves, turn off flame and add papaya cubes and white jelly fungus to allow the contents to steep for 20-30 mins. If using, add wolfberries and julienned winter melon strips if using. Turn off flame and add wolfberries and julienned winter melon strips if using.
Alternatively, in each double-boiler, add a serving portion of papaya cubes, white jelly fungus. Top with apricot kernels soaking syrup. double boil over simmering water in a pot for 20-30 mins.
Leave double-boiler to cool to room temperature and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours, preferably overnight.
The ratio of southern than northern apricot kernels is 4:1 because the variety which grows in the southern parts of China is sweeter. However, the northern bitter variety, despite being more aromatic has more pronounced medicinal effects, despite its taste being a slight drawback. Be assured that the bitterness is hardly noticeable unless you bite into one! Having said that, one should know that the bitter variety is mildly toxic. So use in moderation. Use only the sweet variety if for children’s consumption. I like the white jelly fungus to retain their crunch and thus do not cook them over direct heat. Prolonged cooking would cause them to become very soft and limpy. Same with the papaya; overcooking causes the papaya to disintegrate and become rather sludgy.
I’d heard from older folks that white jelly fungus from Zhang Zhou 漳州 in southern China is of prime quality but since most of this is now farm cultivated, it does not make much of a difference anymore. I do see some fresh ones produced by local mycofarms being sold in supermarkets but have not gotten round to use them. Despite its name, the fungus has a slight yellowish tinge which develops into a darker tumeric coloration near the base. Don’t buy white fungus jelly which is totally white (I know this sounds bizarre!) as they might have been bleached with sulphur dioxide, much like how wood pulp becomes white paper.
A dried rosette the size of one’s palm will give you quite a lot of fungus at the end! So don’t be tempted to use more than what one can finish.
Sometimes we buy papaya which are not as sweet than desired. Some are even bitter! Papayas may also burst into “uneven ripening” which causes the skin to become a brilliant golden hue but the insides are hardly ripe! So this recipe is because it is a good way to “get rid” of unriped papayas in the house.
I’m submitting this post to Aspiring Bakers #20: Asian dessert buffet! (June 2012) hosted by Moon of Food Playground.