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 prepare. Once picked, wrap in damp newspaper and keep cool until you return to 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.
HOW TO SERVE BAMBOO SHOOTS
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.