Grilled as you like it

Eats shoots and leaves May 25, 2008

seven fresh takenoko | layers of leaves at the tip of the takenoko, the innermost leaves are tender and delicious

Springtime is the season for takenoko, or fresh bamboo shoots. I began to see takenoko appearing in the markets around town in mid-April. I had never prepared one before and I had directions and recipes from the Kansha Club, so one weekend I bought one. I wasn’t sure at the time why they were only in the store on weekends, but now I know: they’re a lot of work to prepare!

I cooked my bamboo shoot on the last day of April, while Alex was at a school enkai. I got to work by carefully peeling away the tough, fuzzy outer leaves. When I had peeled to the point where the leaves would split part-way up instead of at the base of the bamboo shoot, I stopped peeling them off. Next, I cut off the tip of the shoot. I found that the tip is fairly tough, so next time I will cut it a bit lower, since the tough layers are hard to cut even with a sharp knife. Finally I slit the leaves halfway through from the base of the shoot to the tip. Be careful here, you don’t want to cut into the base at this point, or it will fill up with nuka while you are boiling it, giving you more work to clean it out later.

After that I tucked the shoot into my biggest pot and added the bag of nuka (rice bran) that came with the shoot. The nuka absorbs toxins from the shoot while it boils. I don’t have an otoshi buta, so I used a smaller lid to keep the bamboo shoot submerged (they tend to float). Finally I added water to cover and simmered the shoot until the base was tender, about 45 minutes.

Once the shoot was cooked and cooled a bit, it was easy to remove the remaining tough leaves. The innermost leaves, called hime-kawa, or princess skin, are tender and delicious so don’t peel them all away!

While Alex was at the enkai, his Kyoto-sensei asked him if he had ever tried takenoko, and offered to bring him some shoots freshly dug from his garden. The next day, I was surprised to find seven more takenoko waiting for me when I got home! Luckily, Golden Week would be starting that weekend, so I would have plenty of time to prepare and cook my shoots. Although the store-bought shoot kept fine for a few days, the cut edge of the garden-fresh shoots began to spoil surprisingly quickly, and the spoiled bits smell terrible. So if you are planning to get some freshly dig bamboo shoots from your friends or neighbors, make sure to cook them within a day. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I thought that the freshly dug shoots had nicer color and flavor than the shoot that I bought at the market too.

takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot with rice) | takenoko arima-ni (simmered bamboo shoot with fried tofu

I used the base of the bamboo shoot for takenoko arima-ni (simmered bamboo shoots with fried tofu), and the top went into takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot rice). For the arima-ni, I substituted fresh kinome (leaves of the sansho plant) for fresh sansho berries, since I couldn’t find the berries at my market. Both recipes were delicious and I made them each at least twice (I think I may have made takenoko gohan 3 or 4 times).

After my big weekend of takenoko boiling, I avoided the box of bamboo shoots that someone had brought to my school to share the following week. Considering how many we received from friends, it may be foolish to pay for takenoko at the market, unless, of course, you are buying the already prepared ones, which will save you from quite a bit of preparation time and a messy kitchen. The season is short, though. It seems like all the shoots popped up over golden week, and that was the last we saw of them. The fresh shoots are gone from the markets, though the prepared ones remain. Maybe I’ll get one to make the season last just a little bit longer…

I heard that they have takenoko on our friends the Kobayashis’ farm, so I hope that we can go digging for them ourselves next year. I’ve been told that the shoots are at their best if you can find them before they even come up from the ground. I’ve already marked my calendar.

I also just found a great video of harvesting and preparing takenoko at joi.ito.com. Check it out!


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