Several people have emailed asking about how to cook dried bamboo shoot. I looked up the familiar Asian ingredient in all my books but for some reason, dried bamboo shoot is seldom mentioned in Asian cookbooks. It is a terrific and standard ingredient sold at Chinese and Vietnamese markets. Dried bamboo shoot is shelved at Asian grocery stores alongside other dried foodstuffs, such as dried mushroom, seaweed, turnip, squid, beans, etc. In Vietnam, the shoots are simmered along with pork, duck, or chicken for a classic rice noodle soup called bun mang. Such preparations are traditionally saved for special occasions, such as the Lunar New Year – Tet Nguyen Dan. Since Tet is coming up (in 2010, it falls on Valentine's Day!), I cooked up a bunch of dried bamboo shoot today in preparation for the holiday cooking ahead.
What is the difference between fresh and dried bamboo shoot? Fresh has a crispness whereas dried has a meaty quality. Both have that musty bamboo funk but since bamboo shoot has to be cooked for a long time, the funk disappears. Bamboo shoot is called mang (“mahng”) in Vietnamese and dried bamboo shoot is mang kho (“mahng koh”). Dried bamboo shoots are not hard, but rather leathery. Once reconstituted and boiled until chewy-tender, dried bamboo shoots have a chewy-tenderness and pleasant sweetness that’s not found in fresh or canned bamboo. Whenever I cook dried bamboo shoot, I marvel at how it transforms its cooking broth into a perfumy brew. If you’ve had Japanese ramen noodle soup, chances are that you’ve had dried bamboo shoot (called menma) as a topping.
How to buy dried bamboo shoot? There are many brands and kinds of dried bamboo shoots sold. Vietnamese expatriates like me often return from a trip to the motherland with dried bamboo shoot in our luggage as part of our Vietnam travel food souvenirs. I typically buy mine from Cholon in Saigon and pay a little extra for the premium stuff (photo at the top of this post). Ask when you buy. I learned from the Cholon vendor that the so called prised pig’s tongue (luoi lon) variety of dried bamboo shoot wasn’t good as it takes forever to cook and smells extra funky. The woman steered me toward the higher priced bamboo, which cost roughly $14 for a kilo. That’s a lot of bamboo shoot. They expand to 2 to 3 times their dessicated selves.
To closely match the bamboo shoot in Vietnam, look for shoots that are butterscotch in color, have been processed as small pieces (about 1-inch wide and 3 or 4 inches long), and have not been salted. The salted variety is not as stinky and its flavor is delicate, almost grassy. It can be used for Vietnamese dishes but the result is milder tasting than the unsalted variety.
Avoid long, big dried bamboo shoot, which is super tough and requires more cooking time. I cooked four types of dried bamboo for this recipe and the one that worked well was the Vietnamese stuff was from K.L.Y. Trading Company, a standard source for dried Chinese foodstuffs. The 6-ounce packages are sold in clear plastic and labeled in red and yellow with a logo of two carp facing a gold coin (or sun over some water depending on your interpretation). The photo above is of a few other varieties that are nice too! They all for about $3 per package.
Storing dried bamboo shoot: In a zip top bag in a dark, cool place. The bamboo shoot will last indefinitely.
Substituting fresh or canned for dried bamboo shoot: Yes, you can swap fresh or canned bamboo shoot for the dried bamboo shoot. However, the flavor and texture will be different. Remember to cut down the cooking time for the fresh or dried. Dried bamboo shoot is not used in lieu of fresh or canned bamboo shoot.
Dried Bamboo shoot
3 or 4 ounces dried bamboo shoot
1. Rinse the bamboo shoot well under water, squeezing it to remove excess funk and mustiness. Put in a bowl and add water to cover by 2 inches. Set aside for at least 6 hours or overnight, until soft enough to bend easily. If the water turns cloudy during the soaking, change it. Drain and rinse well, squeezing again as you work.
2. Put into a pot of water and add water to cover by 2 to 3 inches. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 hour, replenishing the water as needed. Drain the water and rinse. Some bamboo may be soft enough at this point to eat but most will not. Replace the water in the pot and repeat the boiling for about 1 hour to soften more. The bamboo is ready when it is chewy tender or tender; you should be able to press on it with a slight resistance. Tips will be very tender and parts that are more than 1/4 inch thick may still be chewy. Don’t worry because you will cook it further with the pork. When the bamboo is ready, drain, rinse, and set aside to cool.
3. Cut the bamboo and or hand shred it long narrow pieces, about the size of a skinny index finger. Discard any part that feel super tough; bite into it to test. Set aside or refrigerate for up to 2 days. Freeze in zip top bags for up to 6 months.