Sat, May 12, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Ian's Table: Bamboo season is back

Makino shoots are associated with the months following Tomb Sweeping Festival, and now is the time to enjoy this delicacy in its fresh state

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Contributing reporter

A simple dish of beef and Makino bamboo shoots makes for an easy and fuss-free meal.

Photo: Ian Bartholomew

Spring is a time for bamboo shoots, an ingredient for which the Taiwanese have a particular fondness. There are a wide variety of bamboo shoots available, the most celebrated at the moment being the sword bamboo shoots (劍筍), which is a specialty of southern Hualien County. I wrote about these last year at about this time, and the short season for this delicacy is currently in full swing.

While sword bamboo is prized as a fresh product, makino bamboo shoots (桂竹筍), which also have a relatively short season and are particularly associated with the months following the Tomb Sweeping Festival, are widely used as a preserved product, so it is easy to forget that they can be eaten fresh, with only a little additional preparation.

Makino bamboo shoots up with the plum rains, growing up to 20cm in a single day. In their fresh state they do not keep well and so they are usually processed immediately after harvest. At its simplest, this involves steaming or cooking in salted water before sealing in tins, jars or vacuum packs. Inevitably, there have been rumors that unscrupulous merchants use chemicals to produce better color and extend shelf life, issues that surround all preserved foods, so if you are able to, buy the shoots fresh and process them yourself.

PROCESSING THE SHOOTS

The bamboo shoots should be processed as soon after purchase as possible. The downside of these excellent bamboo shoots is that they rapidly turn sour if kept unprocessed after harvesting, and as they dry out with storage, become too fibrous to be eaten with pleasure.

Some form of boiling or steaming is essential in the preparation of all bamboo as they contain taxiphyllin, a cyanogenic glycoside, which is toxic for humans.

To process, remove as much of the base as you think might be too hard or fibrous and cut away any stiff outer layers if they have not already been removed. Put in cold water with a generous pinch of salt, bring to a boil, cover and simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes (some sources recommend as much as two to three hours, particularly if you intend to use them as a cold side dish without further cooking).

This process also helps remove any bitterness in the flavor.

Drain the shoots and once they are cool, place in an air tight container and refrigerate. They can be kept this way without any loss of flavor for up to a month. Freezing them in the cooled cooking water is suggested for much longer preservation, but I have yet to test this method myself.

As with the monkey head mushrooms that I talked about last month, this is a veg that requires a little investment of time up front, but when that is done, it can be easily put aside in the fridge or freezer and is ideal for preparation of a quick meal.

VERSATILE SHOOTS

Makino bamboo shoots, with their delicate flavor and pleasant crunch, are extremely versatile in the kitchen, fitting in perfectly with anything from soups to braises. The classic presentation is in the Hakka dishes of Makino bamboo braised with Fucai (福菜), a type of preserved mustard green, or with belly pork. It is also very pleasant in the Taiwan standard of pork rib soup, where its flavor comes to the fore. But perhaps its most ubiquitous presence is as a stir fry, needing little more than a bit of garlic and some soy sauce to make a perfectly presentable dish that goes brilliantly with rice.

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