At present, the flowery Tremella fuciformis is sold in the United States only in its dried form. This fungus (also called "silver ear mushroom" and "white jelly fungus") is available in two colors, white and tan. They are identical in use and taste. According to Dr. Henry Mee, an Asian-mushroom expert, the color depends on where the mushrooms were grown. These relatives of the ear mushroom Auricularia polytricha are packaged much like dried seaweed. The tissues are paper thin, with ruffled borders.
A second, premium form of T. fuciformis can also be purchased in Chinese markets. Easily recognized, they are stemless white chrysanthemum-like growths, 2 to 3 inches in diameter, usually packaged in decorated gold boxes tied with red ribbons. They have a spicy odor. Unfortunately, this is quickly lost in cooking.
Soak both varieties in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes until they expand to three to four times their original size. Cut off any fibrous material adhering to the base of the mushroom. Once reconstituted, they look like white flowers in bloom. Added to chicken soup, they provide a velvetlike crunchy textural interest. Alas, there is no flavor to these visually attractive culinary delicacies.
Chinese people enjoy them in rock candy syrup, usually served in the middle of a banquet. You will find them canned in such syrup in Chinese stores.
Snow mushrooms have been traditionally used as a tonic, a freckle remover, and a cure for female disorders. Eat them and enjoy a long and unblemished life.
Chinese Chicken Soup with Snow Mushrooms
Serves 4 to 6 as a first course
ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Ear Mushrooms, Shiitake
Snow Mushroom and Fruit Dessert
Serves 4 as a dessert