Wonderful surprise! I found a fresh bamboo shoot at a Chinese food store in Flushing, Queens, NY, after enjoying Chinese restaurant hopping for lunch with my friends. Fresh bamboo shoot heralds the spring in
in Japan. In Tokyo I always saw bamboo shoot at local food stores from early April. So, this encounter in Queens in early February was another surprise.
After our Flushing Chinese food campaign, my stomach was full and could not even think of any more food, but I could not resist rushing to the shoots, studying them and purchasing a large one that was heavy and moist looking. On my way back to Manhattan on the subway, I was thinking of the delicious takenoko gohan, bamboo shoot rice, that my mother made year after year every spring.
Returning to home with my stomach still full, I cooked the shoot in the husk in boiling water along with couple of Japanese small dried red chile peppers, akatogarashi. (We say red chile pepper helps to remove bitterness from the shoot.) I cooked the shoot for 3 hours just as my mother does. While waiting I rinsed brown rice and soaked it in water. It was already 9 PM when I picked up tender-cooked shoot from the water. After removing the husks from the shoot one after another, the smooth, light camel-colour inside of the shoot gradually appeared releasing its distinctive, perfume-like aroma. You can never ever associate this fresh shoot with the canned or plastic packaged pre-cooked variety. They have poor flavor and no aroma. There is absolutely no comparison! I cut the bottom half part of the shoot into tiny cubes for bamboo shoot rice. Then I fetched one sheet of frozen abura-age (deep-fried thin tofu). I always have couple of them in a freezer section of the refrigerator. They are handy, for example, for adding to miso soup, stir-fried dish, and flavored rice dishes such as bamboo shoot rice. I blanched the deep-fried tofu in boiling water, drained and cut into tiny cubes. Around 9:30PM I finally started to feel hungry, so I continued the operation. In the rice cooker I put the soaked -drained rice, kelp stock, bamboo shoot, deep-fried tofu, sake, mirin and wheat shoyu and pressed the start button on the machine to begin cooking. By 10:30PM a wonderful smell permeated into our apartment and the rice was ready. It was too late for dinner but I could not help enjoying at least a cup of REAL TAKENOKO GOHAN. I have been missing this experience for the past nine yeras since coming to Manhattan. Oh, it was so delicious. I will take a train back to Flusing soon to buy few more shoots before the very short season ends. Next time I will make takenoko tempura as well. I will share the rice recipe in my next blog.