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.

Takenoko steak

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.



Bamboo Shoots (Takenoko)

January 29, 2011

Fresh bamboo shoots, known in Japan as takenoko and considered a springtime delicacy, as they are throughout much of Asia, are a highly nutritious wild vegetable. They are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and a good source of Protein, Vitamin E, Riboflavin, Niacin and Iron, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Copper and Manganese.

The species most commonly consumed in Asia are typically ‘running’ bamboos that grow to very large diameters and produce magnificently large shoots. Moso (Phyllostachys edulis) is a commonly eaten species in Japan. Other species of bamboo, both ‘running’ and ‘clumping’ are also edible but the shoots, particularly of the clumping varieties, will generally be smaller. Some of the smaller shoots are great but if you go too small you’ll need to collect an awful lot of them to get a good feed. I do not know of any species of bamboo that are not edible but some species are said to contain cyanide that should be leached or boiled out before eating (see the process of precooking described below). To be on the safe side I precook all bamboo shoots as its a lot easier than learning to identify all the different species.

Pictured below is a shoot at about optimum eating size of  a species of running bamboo that grows to a diameter of around 5 to 8 centimetres. The shoot pictured is probably somewhere between 10 to 15 centimetres in length. To encourage the formation of larger shoots bamboo stands are thinned and, at a minimum, there should be space to walk between the bamboo.

Bamboo shootMy Chinese neighbours, who forage for bamboo shoots in the same bamboo grove in which I have been living, harvest much larger shoots but I have never worked out how they prepare them to make them in any way as good as the smaller tender shoots that I take. Following their instructions I ended up with woody shoots that were barely palatable. Something lost in translation maybe…

When I harvest a shoot I want the thicker end to look like it does in the photo below.

bamboo shoot harvested for eating

To prepare the shoots (and rid them of any cyanide) cut off the pointy tips and cook the shoots in water saved from the washing of brown rice or otherwise in water containing a little bran. They should be boiled for about an hour. Once done and cooled a little remove the layers of tough outer skin until you reach the tender fleshy centre. Unless the shoots are tiny I usually slice them in half lengthways first to make the removal of the edible centre easier.

Once you have the tender centres of the shoots they can be added to other dishes or flavoured. Following is one of my favourite ways of eating the shoots:

Bamboo Shoots and Brown Rice

Wash the brown rice (saving the water for precooking the bamboo shoots) and soak for at least an hour or use sprouted brown rice

Prepare the bamboo shoots as mentioned above

Soak dried shiitake mushrooms and a strip of kombu seaweed in water (fresh shiitake can be used as can other species of seaweeds but tougher ones that won’t disintegrate with the long cooking time are best)

When the bamboo shoots are ready combine with the rice, shiitake, and kombu, carrots chopped into small bite sized chunks can also be added, cover with a splash more water than you would normally use for the quantity of rice being cooked and add a decent splash of shoyu or tamari and mirin (sweet cooking sake)

Bring to a boil then lower the heat to the absolute minimum possible and cook for about 45 minutes

For more on bamboo shoots see the post Takenoko published April 2011.