Every once and a while I get the urge to recreate one of my favorite meat dishes with mushrooms, and that urge is how this dry fried mushroom dish came to be. It's my riff on a classic Sichuan beef dish, packed full of deep umami and the addictive numbing heat of Sichuan peppercorns. With just a few key ingredients, dry-fried celery and mushrooms is one of my favorite weeknight meals--give it a try!
Super satisfying textures and flavors--this will make you a mushroom lover!
Normally, I try to stay away from broad claims about a recipe transforming someone's opinion about an ingredient. If you don't like something, you don't like it--and that's okay. So this is for all the mushroom-curious or the on-the-fence mushroom folk: This recipe will make you love mushrooms. The way the mushrooms are cooked releases enough moisture to create deep umami, and firms up the texture into a really toothsome, meaty bite.
What to Expect:
Crunchy celery plus meaty mushrooms, all doused with a savory numbing heat? Addictive.
The ingredients for this dish are so simple, but the final flavors are complex and addictive. Think super savory, spicy, and deep, but with very little effort. My favorite kind of recipe!
- Ginger is earthy-sweet and spicy. It's also an important fresh flavor that balances the deep umami of the other ingredients. Using matchsticks instead of finely grating it makes sure it doesn't disappear into the sauce. You get bright pops of flavor every few bites!
- Toban djan is a spicy fermented chili bean sauce. (It's also a key ingredient in mapo tofu.) Fermentation naturally creates tons of flavor complexity, which is one of the reasons this dish tastes so layered with such a short ingredient list. I use Lee Kum Kee brand, since that's what I have available to me.
- Sichuan peppercorns are the source of the typical numbing tingle you'll find in many Sichuan recipes. It's not a burn, like hot peppers, but more of a blooming prickle. Good Sichuan peppercorns should have a citrus aroma. If they don't smell like much, they are stale!
Work smarter, not harder.
Dry-frying is a delicious (and easy) way to prepare mushrooms!
The inspiration for this dish, a beef dish, uses a dry-frying method where a quick, hard cook drives out most of the moisture from the meat. The final texture is firm with a pleasant chew. (For a beef version, take a look at this one from The Woks of Life, or this one from Serious Eats.)
Since mushrooms have a high water content, dry frying is a great approach for achieving firm, "meaty" mushroom texture. The initial sear drives out much of the moisture the same way it does with beef, concentrating the umami flavor and allowing the mushrooms to caramelize. Since mushrooms shrink down as they cook, you'll need to sear the mushrooms in batches. Over-crowding the pan will cause them to steam, rather than brown, just like when you're searing meat.
Notes for Success:
I say this all the time, but this time I really mean it: try to use other mushrooms beyond white button, baby bella, cremini, or portobello. These are all in the same family, and they all have a distinct "of the damp earth" flavor. It's not bad, but when mushrooms are the star of your meal it can be kind of intense.
I highly recommend oyster, king oyster, lion's mane, beech, shimeji, maitake/hen of the wood... Oyster seems to be the most common here, but check your smaller local markets and Asian markets (HMart is usually a reliable source for me). Even a whole bunch of shiitake would be great! While each type of mushroom has a different flavor profile, all of these are some combination of meatier/more savory, nuttier, and cleaner tasting than just a mouthful of cremini.
Since "specialty" mushrooms can be pricier per pound (though not much more than beef, in many cases), try using a blend of special mushrooms and portobello/button/etc mushrooms. That will stretch the reach of more expensive mushrooms while minimizing the wet earth effect of the button mushroom family.
More Mushroom Recipes!
Spicy Dry Fried Celery and Mushrooms
- 3 to 4 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal, About 2 cups
- Kosher salt
- 2-inch piece of ginger, sliced into thin matchsticks
- 16 ounces mushrooms, tough stems removed, sliced ~¼-inch thick
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil, plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon toban djan , Chili-bean sauce
- 1½ teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns, finely ground
- 1½ teaspoons soy sauce
- Step 1In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add half the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until deeply browned and beginning to crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate, then repeat with the remaining mushrooms, adding more oil if necessary.
- Step 2Return all the mushrooms to the pan over medium-high. Add the celery and the ginger. Cook, stirring, until the celery is just tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the toban djan, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and soy sauce. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt.