April 26, 2011
This is a follow up on my bamboo shoot (takenoko) post from January. Back then I was writing about my experiences of harvesting shoots of around 15 centimetres in length and a few centimetres in diameter. Now we’re talking about takenoko like the one pictured below. Compare the matchstick at the base of the shoot for scale.
There are a few meals in this Moso (Phyllostachys edulis) shoot. Before offering some suggestions as to what you might do with one of these giants I want add a couple of points to what I have previously written about the precooking of bamboo.
As I have said previously some bamboos contain cyanide which can be leached by precooking in water containing nuka (rice bran). Usually we save the water from washing brown rice and use this to precook the shoots. If you do not have any bran available a chilli pepper placed in the water is also said to remove the cyanide. Boil the bamboo shoots in water containing nuka or a chilli pepper for anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour.
Research conducted in Japan and reported in the Journal of Biochemistry, Vol. 44, Issue 10, has found that bamboo also contains homogentisic acid. This “growth factor” in the bamboo shoot is probably responsible for lending the bamboo a taste, or more properly, a sensation of the mouth, known in Japan as egomi (which Asako translates as googey). This is a similar sensation to that experienced when eating raw taro. The precooking of bamboo as described above removes the egomi from the shoots.
In Japan it is said that bamboo cooked and eaten immediately after harvesting contains very little egomi and even less if harvested in the morning. When both criteria are fulfilled often the bamboo will be eaten without any precooking at all. I do not know if the absence of egomi also indicates an absence of cyanide but the practice of eating unleached bamboo shoots, harvested in the morning and eaten soon after, is an ancient one so probably quite safe. If in doubt ask the bamboo. If still in doubt play it safe and precook the shoots. The cyanide is not present in quantities that will kill you but if, like us, it becomes a seasonal staple leaching the shoots is a good idea.
Pictured below is Tsuchiya-san our wonderful mentor in the finer points of harvesting takenoko and all things related to foraging and mountain living. To get the best shoots they should be harvested when only a few centimetres of the shoot is visible above the ground. The soil from one side of the shoot is removed to the depth where the shoot joins the rhizome and the shoot is cut just above where the small roots emerge.
A great method of preparing fresh Moso (or other large) bamboo shoots that we were recently introduced to is as a ‘steak.’ For this you use the large ends of the shoots. After precooking slice rounds of the shoots a few centimetres thick, score the flat surfaces to absorb flavour and pan fry in a little oil or butter. Alternatively, marinate the steaks (shoyu and ginger, maybe) and grill.
Bamboo is a fast growing prolific plant so if you have access to a stand there should be no shortage of shoots for eating. The shoots begin sprouting in spring and may continue for a month or more depending on the species and location. If you have access to a bamboo species like Moso in a single shoot there will likely be more than one meal. Given these factors bamboo is a good wild food to preserve. While fresh food is usually better than preserved food preserved food is better than no food. And preserved bamboo shoots are probably still better than the ‘fresh’ supermarket fare produced by industrial agriculture. And, of course, fermentation is more than just preservation…
Salted and dried bamboo shoots
Precook the shoots in water containing bran or a chilli pepper for a minimum of 30 minutes. Remove the tough outer skin and cut the tender centre into strips. Cook again in water. Remove surface moisture from the cooked strips of shoot and sprinkle with a generous amount of salt. Over the following three days dry the strips of shoot in the sun and massage them as regularly as you can. When the strips are thoroughly dry (about three days) store in an airtight container. For use simply remove any excess salt and rehydrate (soak in water for 15 minutes or more) before cooking.
Fermented bamboo shoots
After precooking the shoots cut them into large pieces and layer them in a vessel (ceramic, enamel or food grade plastic) salting them generously. Place a lid of a smaller diameter than the fermenting vessel on top of the salted bamboo shoots and place a weight on top. The salt will draw moisture out of the shoots assisted by the weight which will also keep the the shoots submerged in this liquid. The shoots will ferment in this liquid and be preserved. For use wash off any excess salt and cook (or eat as is).
These preservation methods should keep the shoots until the next takenoko season rolls around and probably a lot longer. We’ll let you know next year just how well these methods work.
Update: April, 2012
The preservation techniques described above were successful! Here we are, foraging bamboo shoots once again and we still have some of last years preserved shoots in fine condition. This year we will try reducing the amount of salt we used in the second technique. We will also be experimenting with another technique using a combination of salt and okara (a by-product of tofu making). I shall let you know how that one goes.
Also we have learnt, from the old mountain folk and by experience that when the eating the fresh shoots within a day of harvesting, precooking is completely unnecessary.