One of the tenets of washoku (Japanese cuisine) is its respect for nature’s seasons. All ingredients have a shun, a window of time in which they are the freshest and best-tasting (aka “in season”). Bamboo shoots are a symbol of spring in Japan – because they’re in season, but also because of the time-sensitive challenge involved in bringing out its best and freshest taste. Farmers dig up the shoots early in the morning, and the sooner they’re cooked, the better they taste! Inversely, the longer they wait before being cooked, the more bitter they become!
This bitterness is due to the toxins contained in fresh bamboo shoots; to eliminate these (both for flavour and health reasons), the shoots are boiled in water with rice bran, or alternately in the water used for rinsing rice before cooking it (hyperlink?), and left to soak until they cool. It’s said that cooking them with the skin on helps them retain flavour and texture, and it also makes it easier to peel off those tough outer layers.
If you don’t have access or time to prepare fresh bamboo shoots, you can try the vacuum-packed kind. It’s not as delectable as fresh bamboo shoot, but still way better than the canned variety, which your taste buds will thank you for not buying!
This Japanese recipe is a kind of takikomi gohan, a mixed rice dish in which the added ingredients are cooked with the rice. It’s the perfect way to add a flavour of spring to your meal, so enjoy it while you can!
Fluff up the rice and serve warm. Enjoy!