CHEF DEL COOK BAMBOO SHOOT RECIPE
Recipe by CHEF DEL COOK [separator type=”thin”]
After a long cold winter most of us are excited about the new feeling that comes during Spring. Flowers and leaves are the most visible sign of new life however deep within the bamboo forests of Asia the roots also burst forth with hope. This is only visible to the trained eye as they are camouflaged by the forest floor. Each morning at the break of dawn farmers and rural dwellers in Japan grab a sac and a pointed shovel and head to the forest to look for new growths. It is best to pick in the morning as the bamboo shoots will be less bitter. They are quick growing shoots so it is also important to check everyday in order to pick them before they become too woody.
To pick a bamboo shoot actually involves precision extraction with a pointy nose shovel. Plant the nose of the shovel a few centimetres from the bottom of the bamboo shoot and at a 45° angle. Plant your food and drive the shovel quickly and cleanly into the lower root. Withdraw and repeat the same action on the opposite side of the bamboo shoot. Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 approaches to cleanly remove the shoot from its base. The idea is to remove the shoot unbroken and leave the remainder of the root in the ground for future year’s harvest.
Once picked head back to the house and hose off the color-staining outer leaves along with any dirt or bugs. Now they are ready to braise in a sturdy cast iron pot of hours to soften their texture, remove bitterness and add aromatic flavor. Cooking slow allows all of this to happen without overcooking and damaging the delicate flavors and textures of bamboo shoots.
When selecting takenoko or bamboo shoots from the store check the bottoms first. They should look moist as this means they were picked fresh that day. Next select by size and weight. It is a lot of work to peel and braise fresh shoots so don’t choose them too small. About 8-20 cm is the ideal size. Next check that they feel heavy – heaviness is an indicator of freshness and also internal consistency. Remember this is a natural product so not everyone is a winner. Periodically the bamboo is more hollow and woody which can be anticipated because it will feel lighter.
Bamboo Shoots ( Také-noko )
- 8-20 cm bamboo shoots picked the same day
- rice bran
- sliced yellow onion
- dried chile pepper
- sea salt
- Carefully pull the colored outer leaves off the bamboo shoots until the light yellow interior is revealed.
- Using a large (8-12 cm knife) cut across the very bottom to straighten it. Make another cut through the bamboo just below where the top petals join the bottom cylinder of the shoot. The bamboo should now be in 2 pieces. Note: the reason for this is the delicate top will cook long before the more fibrous bottom.
- Place the bamboo in a snug fitting cast iron or stainless steel braising pot and cover in cold water. Add the onion slices, dry red chile and rice bran. Add 1 g salt per 1 Liter water
- Bring the pot to about 80 Celsius and simmer for 3 to 4 hours. At the 2 hour mark check the delicate top half. If tender remove and continue to cook the bottom until a knife inserts into the side without resistence.
- With a slotted spoon remove the bamboo shoots. Rinse the cooked bamboo under cold water to remove the rice bran.
- Strain the braising liquid through a mesh conical strainer to remove the bran and onions.
- Add the cooked bamboo shoots back to the liquid and leave to cool. Once cool use immediately or store below 5 Celsius for up to 4 days.
A braised bamboo shoot recipe results in a meaty vegetable that can thereafter be used in a wide variety of dishes and cuisines. Chinese and Japanese recipes may be the first to come to mind but Italian and French dishes also adapt well to this spectacular vegetable. Due to its clean taste it works well in pasta dishes, soups and stews or simple as a vegetable side dish.
A personal favorite is peperoncino pasta with bamboo shoots. Simply prepare as per the above recipe and then toss together with the peperoncino pasta to warm through. To use it in clear soups or stews add the sliced bamboo shoots towards the end of cooking. Timing your cooking this way will allow for the bamboo shoot to stand out against the long cooked flavors of the broth or stew. A Japanese dashi could replace a vegetable or chicken broth in both cases.
One of the highlights of spring in Japan is takenoko gohan or bamboo shoots steamed with rice. To really enhance your dish replace the water for the rice with dashi. Bamboo shoots can be added at the beginning or after cooking the rice – the differences will be subtle. To serve add fresh sansho (japanese pepper) leaves. This is a perfect dish with which to celebrate spring.