I’ve never been confident of my own savoury abilities in cooking; it’s always been something I’ve done mostly for myself, unlike my baked goods that often become fair game for the next friend or family member I see. I like what I cook for my own tastes, and have long since taught myself my way around a basic kitchen, but I would never champion my own skillsets or repertoire when it comes to savoury dishes. It feels vulnerable — I cook in a “Chinese” way, but am I authentic enough to share so openly (am I Chinese enough; from there, am I specifically Singaporean Chinese; even further, am I Singaporean Hakka Chinese enough)? It feels intimidating too, as I’ve always relied on simple minimal cooking that befitted not only a student kitchen (as that was the circumstances I worked with when cooking for my own frequently after moving out for university) but also a person who struggles with depression, and hence minimal energy, motivation and capacity for elaborate meals, let alone adventurous experimentation.
This is one of the things I’ve tried and adapted to two ways, both delicious and simple. It’s apparently gone quite viral across Chinese social media — using king oyster mushrooms (杏鲍菇) to make vegan abalone. It takes a bit of Kids Craft Time (using a knife to cut into the bellied paunch of the mushroom to make an abalone shape) but it wasn’t tedious nor tiddly; it felt like a therapeutic, light-hearted, creative kitchen moment that rendered an impressive looking dish that made me feel good.
King oyster mushrooms are known for their meatiness, a chew that vegan cooks capitalise on by flaking it into a shredded-pork facsimile with a fork or scoring thick-cut rounds and searing to become scallop substitutes. Here, after browning in lots of fragrant garlic and ginger, a quick braise allows the mushrooms to hold rich brothy flavour in every tender bite. The caps and leftover scraps from cutting out the abalone shapes withhold so much juice and sauce, on top of the already pre-existing mahogany umami savouriness. It soaks in flavour plumply, and is gorgeous over noodles.
I’ve included two different sauces here: one simple, slightly sweet dark soy braise that is the quickest and simplest; another that allows for some more variation with add-ins and gains a bit of freshness and herbal sweetness from Thai basil and goji berries thrown in later.
To me, that is the purpose of a recipe — to guide gently, and leave room for a person’s history, a person’s habits, and individual pleasure. I served the mushroom abalone cooked the first way with noodles dressed in sesame oil and soy sauce; for the second way, I added vegan prawns, konjac, soaked and diced shiitake mushrooms and chunks of daikon radish to make a seafood-style braising base. I’ll share more about this meal sometime, which I cooked for my parents.
Braised King Oyster Mushroom ‘Abalone’
video tutorial on my Instagram
2-3 King Oyster mushrooms
2 or more cloves finely minced garlic
2 tbs finely minced ginger
Cut off the caps of each mushroom and slice it down its length into two.
Using a blunt knife (I used a butterknife; they’re soft so they don’t require much strenuous effort) cut a ring into each half, rounded side up, to look like an abalone. The way I do this is to use my knife to cut the shape of a large circle into the top, and then cut another ever so slightly smaller circle into it — you will then be able to pick out the scraps easily and leave a circle-shaped ring in your mushroom. Afterwards, just slightly trim the ends and sides to look like a rough circle and you’re good to go; you don’t have to be neat about this at all.
Gently, lightly score the top of each mock abalone (this allows it to absorb as much flavour as possible). Finely mince the mushroom scraps from carving.
Heat a frying pan on medium heat. Add a neutral tasting cooking oil and fry your garlic and ginger for about a minute before adding in your mushrooms — the mock abalones, the caps and the finely minced scraps from carving. Take care to sear the mock abalone until golden brown.
Add a splash of water, along with any other vegetables and add-ins you might want (beans, carrot, zucchini, daikon radish, soft tofu etc). Cover with a lid and let the water cook the mushrooms off a little, about 3-5 minutes.
Once this is done, you can proceed with a sauce option of your choice:
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs vegetarian oyster sauce
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp shaoxing wine (can replace with mirin or omit)
½ tsp white pepper or to taste
About ⅓ cup water (80ml)
Mix all ingredients together and pour over the mushrooms. Let this simmer down, adjusting the heat if necessary, and reduce until it becomes a thick glazing consistency. Serve and enjoy!
1 tbs fermented black beans (replace with ½ tbs miso dissolved in 1 tbs hot water)
½ tbs soy sauce
1 tbs sugar
About 1 cup water (240ml) — you might need more if you add more extra ingredients; just add enough water to the level of the ingredients in your pan
1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbs water
Handful goji berries
Handful Thai basil leaves
¾ tsp rice vinegar
Mix the first four ingredients together and pour over the mushrooms. Turn down the heat a little and let this cook for about 15-20 minutes with a lid slightly ajar on top. Once the liquid is about half reduced, add the cornstarch slurry, goji berries and Thai basil. Let the sauce thicken to your desired consistency, take off the heat and finish with the rice vinegar.