Bamboo shoots (dendrocalamus; phyllostachys)

Bamboo shoots are the young edible shoots of certain kinds of bamboo (part of the grass family). There are as many different types of bamboo shoots as there are kinds of bamboo – that is, over 100 – and at least 10 of the 100 or so are marketed. They generally fall into two broad eategories: spring shoots and winter shoots, the winter being smaller and more tender than the spring ones, which can be quite large. Fresh bamboo shoots are sweet and crunchy with an unforgettable, distinctive taste. Because they can tolerate long cooking, their texture remains intact while their flavours blend well with other foods. Fresh bamboo shoots are expensive and are only found seasonally in markets in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China, as well as other parts of Southeast Asia. They are too fragile to export, and I have only rarely seen them in Chinese markets in the West. We have to be satisfied with the canned varieties, which are at least more reasonably priced. Canned bamboo shoots tend to be pale yellow with a crunchy texture and, in some cases, a slightly sweet flavour. They come peeled and either whole or thickly sliced. In some Chinese markets, bamboo shoots preserved in brine are available and these tend to have much more flavour than the canned variety.

Shopping tips

Many of the brands from China are tasty, especially the winter shoots; the May Ling brand is recommended. I have generally found brands from Taiwan to be relatively bland. Purchase the preserved-in-brine variety if they are available (in open bins in the refrigerated section of Chinese grocers). Buy whole bamboo shoots rather than sliced ones as they tend to hold their flavour better.

Storage notes

Transfer any left-over shoots to a jar, cover them with fresh water, and refrigerate. If the water is changed daily they will keep 2 or 3 days.

Useful hints

Fresh bamboo shoots are prepared by first stripping off all their leaves and then trimming the hard base. Only the center core is edible, which is cut and then blanched in boiling water for at least 5 minutes to remove its bitterness. Prepare the core according to the recipe. The bamboo shoots are now ready to be stir-fried or cooked.

Rinse canned bamboo shoots thoroughly and blanch them for 2 minutes in boiling water before use.

© Ken Hom and reproduced with his kind permission.