Carefully pick through the pearl algae1 to clean them through. Boil them until they are somewhat soft then braise them in chicken and ham broth. When serving the dish, it is best when only the pearls are visible and not the chicken or the ham used in its preparation. The household of Tao Fangbo excels at preparing this dish.
1This is a type of cyanobacteria that forms jelly-like round colonies in the bottom of shallow freshwater ponds. The species are usually Nostoc commen v spheroides or Nostoc pruniforme. Still, their full scientific name or their terrible common names (mare’s egg, star jelly) don’t adequately describe how amazing these things look, so I’ve invented a better name: “Pearl Algae”.
Yes, I know they’re are not technically algae, but they look somewhat like them, and they are pearl-like. The Chinese name gexianme (葛仙米), translated badly as “pattern immortal’s rice”. To me, the name pointed out its otherworldly appearance, but in actuality refers to the an ancient Chinese mystic, Ge Hong (葛洪, see Comments). IMHO these spherical algae-like objects are remarkably beautiful.
It’s relative, Nostoc flagelliforme is also commonly eaten and know as facai (髮菜), which literally translates as “hair vegetable” due to it’s stringy appearance. As with its hairy relative, pearl algae are usually sold dried in Chinese groceries.