I had not worked with fresh wood ear mushrooms before. I had interesting memories of the dried variety used in a number of Chinese take out dishes over the years and had wanted to work with the fresh version. As luck would have it, we received a phone call from a purveyor who had fresh wood ear mushrooms. My one question was about quality. The answer was that they were impeccable. With that kind of support I responded with send them.
The mushrooms arrived in great condition: clean, dry, firm and delicate. We used them in a simple dish of artichokes, smoked potato gnocchi and the sauteed wood ear mushrooms as a means to let all the ingredients shine. Since then, we have been working with the mushrooms, preserving them and using them in dishes in place of the more expensive and rarefied morel mushrooms. Today we made buttermilk oatmeal enriched with sugar snap pea puree and topped with a ragout of wood ear mushrooms, mango and scallions. The dish is light and delicate with a woody headiness coming from the mushrooms.
The mushrooms have an extremely unique texture, quite similar to that of a thin version of braised pigs ears with the meatiness and delicate snap of braised cartilage. Anyway, the use of these mushrooms is limited only by the imagination. A couple of current thoughts include candying, brining in olive brine, tempura as a garnish to foie gras and as a chilled salad with raw fish.