Popular as they may be with pandas, full-grown bamboo stalks are far too tough for human consumption. New shoots, however, are a spring delicacy in Japan, where they are called takenoko. Although they are bitter and astringent when raw, a few hours of simmering these hornlike members of the grass family with rice transforms them into eminently edible vegetables with a crisp texture and a subtle flavor somewhere between a water chestnut and an artichoke. Try one in this recipe from Kajitsu chef Ryota Ueshima, who combines the plant with tofu, scallion, and gelatinous shirataki noodles.
Ryota Ueshima’s Bamboo Shoots Sukiyaki
1 medium-size fresh bamboo shoot (available at Hong Kong Supermarket)
2 1/2 tsp. uncooked rice
1 cup sake
3 1/2 tbs. soy sauce
3 tbs. sugar
7 ounces cooked shirataki noodles, packaged in liquid (at Hong Kong Supermarket)
1 bunch green scallions
14 ounces firm tofu
1 tbs. vegetable oil
Cut away the tip of the bamboo shoot. (1) Starting from the top, slice a 3-inch-long incision that is no more than 1/2 inch deep (to enable peeling).
Place bamboo and rice in a large pot, and fill with water until bamboo is submerged. Fold a sheet of aluminum foil into a disk the size of the pot’s inner circumference. Bring water to a boil, then place the aluminum-foil disk in the pot so it sits directly over the liquid. Lower the heat to medium, and simmer for 2 hours. Meanwhile, combine sake, soy sauce, and sugar in a small pot; bring to a boil, then remove from heat and reserve, unrefrigerated. Remove the foil from the bamboo pot and let the shoot sit, unrefrigerated, for about six hours or overnight. (2) Place the shoot upright, and peel away about a dozen layers of the hard outer skin to reveal the yellow bamboo underneath. (3) With the back of a butter knife, peel away another 1/2 inch of outer skin from the base, then halve the bamboo lengthwise and cut each half into 1/3-inch slices. Rinse the shirataki, then place in a pot of boiling water for one minute; strain. Trim off the ends of the scallions, and slice into 2-inch pieces. Cut tofu into 1-inch squares that are 1/3-inch thick. In an 11-inch sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add bamboo, noodles, scallions, and tofu, and sauté for five minutes. Slowly pour in the sake mixture, and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, spoon into bowls, and serve. Serves 4.
*This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.