Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bamboo Shoots - jûk-séun 竹筍

I love bamboo shoots (竹筍 - jûk-séun). I have so far tried 3 varieties: the winter, the spring and the horse hoof. I don’t know if there are any more kinds but these are the 3 types available here in Hong Kong.

From May to mid-August this is the season of the “horse hoof” called máah-taìh - 馬蹄 in Cantonese. Then from mid-August to January we have the winter bamboo shoots (冬竹筍 - dûng-jûk-séun), followed from March to end of April by the spring (春竹筍 -  cheûn-jûk-séun) variety.

Fresh bamboo shoots are crispy and have more flavours than their canned version. Once you have tried the fresh types you will never want to buy the flavourless, tough and stringy ones found in tins. At least this is what happened to me. After a few bad experiences – many years ago – of bringing home half rotten shoots I was reluctantly buying bamboo shoot in tin until earlier this year. Now I have regained confidence thanks to “my” seller who helps me to choose healthy shoots. And I think I will never buy canned shoots again!

I noticed that only a few sellers have bamboo shoots. I buy them from a small stall in Tai Po Hui market which has products from Thailand, Taiwan and China as well as locally made soybean products and a few kinds of salted vegetables.

The winter and the spring bamboo shoots are from China but the horse hoof comes from Taiwan. Bamboo shoots are usually braised and good in stew with pork. They may also be salted or pickled. The lady seller told me that the horse hoof variety was good stir-fried and could even be enjoyed raw in salad as its flesh was very tender.

Winter bamboo shoots冬竹筍 (dûng-jûk-séun)
with sheath partially removed

Spring bamboo shoots 春竹筍 cheûn-jûk-séun  
The spring variety is thinner and longer than the winter type and is supposed to be crispier and desirable than the latter

Horse hoof bamboo shoots 馬蹄竹筍- máah-taìh jûk-séun

The base of the Taiwanese produced bamboo shoots resembles a horse hoof.
The colours of the husks are like the horny casing of the horse foot, hence its name.

Peeled horse hoof bamboo shoot and husks

Fresh winter and spring shoots need to be parboiled (1/2 cooked in water) before being braised so as to remove a somewhat poisonous substance (hydrocyamic acid). (Ref: Hong Kong Food Plants by S. Y. Zee & L. H. Hui). But the horse hoof type does not have this “acid” body so you only need to blanch it for a few minutes before stir-frying it. If you choose to eat it raw (shredded in a salad) there is not need to blanch it, but as you do with the winter and spring types remember to discard the pointed end (which is bitter).

June is the ‘horse hoof” season. I recently bought 2 big shoots (I had never tried this variety before) to make one of my favourite stews (click here to see recipe).

Tianjin preserved vegetable – fresh shoot

Horse hoof bamboo shoots with Tianjin preserved vegetable in stew

Then I realised how tender these shoots were and recalled what the lady seller had told me about stir-frying the “máah-taìh” shoots. So, the following week I went back to buy shoots to make a stir-fry with pork, Chinese mushrooms and some pickled mustard root (see recipe below).  

Sautéed horse hoof bamboo shoots with pork

Sautéed horse hoof bamboo shoots with pork
  • ½ catty (~300g) boneless pork chop (sliced)
  • 2 hose hoof bamboo shoots (fresh)
  • 4 dried Chinese mushrooms (keep soaking water)
  • ¼ pickled mustard root (ja-choi 榨菜)
  • 1 slice ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil

Marinade (for meat):
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp potato starch
  • 1 Tbsp water

  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • ~ 2 Tbsp mushroom soaking liquid
  • Ground white pepper

  1. Tenderize meat: slice pork into thin slices and marinate with salt and potato starch diluted in water for about ½ hour.
  2. Rinse well the mushrooms and soak them in boiling water for ½ hour. Cut and discard stems and slice caps thinly. Reserve soaking water.
  3. Prepare bamboo shoots: peel off husks, cut off tips and blanch for 3 minutes. Drain, and cut shoots into thick pieces.
  4. Prepare ja-choi: rinse with cold water and chop in small pieces.
  5. Preheat wok and heat oil; add garlic and ginger. Stir for 1 minute.
  6. Add shoots and stir for about 5-8 minutes. When the shoots are half cooked add ja-choi, dried mushrooms, seasoning and water (mushrooms soaking liquid) and cook for another 4-5 minutes (until shoots are tender).
  7. Turn off heat and serve hot.

The texture of the horse hoof shoots is crisp and tender. I like the slightly sweet and fresh flavours of the shoots.

I have yet to try the “máah-taìh” variety in salad but tasted the shoot before cooking it. It was indeed very crispy yet tender and flavourful.

Among the 3 varieties that I tried the “horse hoof” is my favourite. Which one is yours? I’d like to know!  ;).

Merci et  bon appétit.

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