Monday, August 26, 2019

Fresh bamboo shoots for hot weather

Taiwan spent fifty years under Japanese occupa­tion, from 1895 to 1945, and the culinary influence has never left. The fresh seafood available on the island is part of the reason why the Japanese cui­sine there is so wonderful, but I’m also fond of it because it has been inflected with Chinese flavors.

To make this local specialty, fat winter or spring bamboo shoots are cooked until barely tender, chilled, and then drizzled with ribbons of Japanese mayo. Overall, it’s a very simple dish, but make sure you check out the Tips below for help in selecting the main ingredient.

This last week I came across a gorgeous pile of black-sheathed bamboo shoots. They are spring rather than winter bamboo shoots because a) it is no longer winter and b) they are long and thin. I lack all self-control when it comes to ingredients like this, so I bought a large bag of them and happily mused over all of the good things that could be created with them.

And then the weather became really hot down here, and so it was a no-brainer: they had to be transformed into something dead simple, a lovely cold dish that I’ve loved for decades. Share the joy.

Cold bamboo shoots with mayonnaise
Liángbàn zhúsŭn 涼拌竹筍
Serves 4 to 6

1 pound | 500 g winter bamboo shoots, fresh or frozen and defrosted (see Tips)
2 teaspoons sea salt
Curly lettuce leaves for garnish, optional
Kewpie brand mayonnaise, as needed
Peel off the sheaths

1. Start this recipe at least 4 hours—and up to 3 days—before serving. If using fresh bamboo shoots, peel them. To do this, first cut off thin slices from the base with a very sharp knife until the meat is a pure ivory color. Then, slit the sheath up from one side, starting at the bottom and exerting more pressure as you reach the tip, which will aim your blade down through the sheath layers and make their removal relatively easy. Trim off any less-than-perfect bits. If you are using winter bamboo, cut the shoots into chunks about 1 inch | 2 cm all around. For spring bamboo, slice the shoots lengthwise into uniform strips, as having them the same size will help them cook evenly.

2. Rinse the shoots and place them in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and add the salt. Bring the water to a full boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook the shoots until the thickest piece can be easily pierced with a paring knife, about 15 min­utes for frozen winter shoots and about 30 minutes for fresh; spring bamboo shoots will sometimes take much longer, as the bases are particularly hard. (Remember, bamboo is used for things like furniture and flooring, so you’re sometimes faced with cooking young wood.) Drain, rinse with cool tap water, and drain again in a colander. Allow the shoots to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least a couple of hours to chill them completely.
A split spring bamboo shoot

3. Just before serving, clean and dry the optional lettuce leaves and arrange them on a serving plate. Mound the chilled bamboo shoots on top of the lettuce and drizzle them with your mayonnaise.


When it comes to bamboo shoots, there are two basic kinds available in the United States at present: chūnsŭn 春筍 (“spring bamboo shoots”) and dōngsŭn 冬筍 (“winter bamboo shoots”). Spring bamboo shoots are long and thin, while winter bamboo shoots are short and chubby. Spring shoots are grassier and more delicate, and so should be cooked gently. Winter shoots are heavier in texture and great for braises.

Select fresh shoots that are firm all over; the sheaths should have no sign of mold or mildew. If the tips are not green, it means that the shoot was harvested while it was still underground and it’s likely that its sugars have not had a chance to turn bitter. Look for shoots that have freshly cut bases; shrinkage around the bases tells you that the shoots are drying out. Store these in the refrigerator in their sheaths and use as quickly as possible. Peel and blanch them if you need to keep them a while longer. Frozen ones keep well, but they should be used before they get freezer burn.
Ready to cook

Spring bamboo shoots will almost always be frozen during their shipment, which of course helps to keep them from rotting on their long ocean voyage, and so they are not really and truly fresh, but this is as close as we can get right now to the genuine article. What this means to you as a shopper is that you should gently (and most likely surreptitiously) squeeze the shoots as you pick them up. Discard any that feel at all mushy.

While you are doing that, inspect the bases and the tips. The tips should still be more or pointed, which means that they weren’t banged around a whole lot during their processing. The bases ought to look and feel hard. You will see a bit of drying out, which is normal, but press on the flat bottoms to see whether they have softened up, as this will indicate a hard freeze that broke down the cells. This generally can be trimmed off, but it is wasteful.
Accept no substitutes

Another way to prepare your bamboo shoots is to cook them in salted, defatted chicken stock. If you like, you can season the stock with rice wine, ginger, and green onions. The bamboo shoots will be much more flavorful this way, and they won’t need any garnish.

Hunt down Japanese Kewpie brand mayonnaise for this and all other Chinese dishes that call for mayo. It has a richer flavor with a tiny piquant edge smoothed with a bit of sugar. It is also packed with things like MSG, but oh well, it tastes really good.

If you would prefer more of a punch in your dish, mix the Kewpie with some Sriracha hot sauce to your favorite degree of hellishness and then toss the bamboo shoots with it. This goes really great with cold beer. Just saying.