JAPAN MOUNTAIN BAMBOO SHOOTS
Mountain bamboo shoots appear in different shapes and sizes all through spring in Asia. Some are thick and require a long cooking time whereas as others are thin and quick to cook. This version of bamboo shoot is about the thickness of two fingers with a relatively thin outer skin and long core. They are beautiful to look at and require a bit of background knowledge in order to achieve good results in cooking. Most bamboo has at least a small degree of bitterness which amplifies the longer it has been out of the ground. With white asparagus once the tip breaks through the ground and becomes exposed to sunlight the sweetness turns to bitterness. Bamboo exhibits similar behavior and is therefore best eaten the day it is picked.
Unlike the wider bamboo shoots that require experience and precision to cut these long and narrow shoots are relatively easy to cut of at the base. Once picked wrap in damp newspaper and keep cool until you arrive in your kitchen. Next wash any dirt or ground cover from the bamboo shoots. and they are ready to use. Again, compared to the wider bamboo shoot these are easy to prepare and cook much faster do to their narrow girth.
When buying takenoko or bamboo shoots at the market check the bottoms first. They should look moist as this means they were picked fresh that day. Soak in water several hours in advance as you would do for corn before grilling.
If you are in Niseko try to buy bamboo shoots in Spring at the Michinoeki (farmers market) or one of the large supermarkets in Kutchan.
Bamboo Shoots ( Také-noko )
- 8-20 cm bamboo shoots picked the same day
GRILLED BAMBOO SHOOT
- Pre-soak the bamboo shoots in water for 2-6 hours. This will help them stay moist and creates a better balance between juicy texture and charred edges.
- Set a fire on the BBQ or preferable a wood charcoal grill called sumi-grill in Japan. The flavors are much better when grilled over wood charcoal than they are over a gas or electric BBQ.
- Once the charcoal is white hot place the bamboo shoots on the grill and cook for 15-25 minutes. Turn every five minutes to ensure even cooking.
- Once cooked allow to cool before peeling.
- Serve with salt or mayonnaise.
FRIED BAMBOO SHOOTS
- Wash and dry the bamboo shoots.
- Prepare the oil (vegetable oil with a tablespoon of cotton oil) and bring to 165°C/ 330°F
- Slowly add the bamboo shoots to the oil and fry until a skewer inserts easily into the shoot
- Remove and blot the oil on an absorbent towel.
- Serve with coarse sea salt such as Fleur de Sel
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.