When I was growing up, I never really craved for my mother’s cooking. My mother wasn’t the best cook, neither was my dad. We ate to not die.
It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents’ house that I discovered the wonderful world of flavor. I learned to cook from my mother-in-law. She was itching for someone to teach and to carry on her culinary knowledge. Luckily for me, I was her outlet.
One of the first lessons she taught me was not to take things from the grocery store and cook it straight away. Everything has to be prepped and properly cleaned before cooking. Bamboo shoots (mang) was a prime example of my very first culinary lesson at the age of 25.
My Asian grocery store carries all versions of bamboo shoots. There are canned and dried bamboo shoots. There are also vacuum-sealed bamboo shoots that come in clear plastic bags with a bit of water in them. We even have fresh ones that look like they were plucked straight from the ground. The canned and vacuum-sealed versions are already prepped and cooked. For my first few attempts at cooking bamboo shoots, I simply tossed them in whatever dish I was making. Why not? They were already cooked. I tossed them straight into stir-fries. I also tossed them straight into soups. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why they tasted so bad with such an overpowering smell, despite having rinsed them lightly beforehand. It was so pungent that I barely finished anything I made with bamboo shoots. I gave up on using them for awhile until the cooking extraordinaire finally told me what I was doing wrong.
What I learned from the mother-in-law is that you have to boil them first even though they came cooked. You must boil, drain, rinse under cold water then squeeze the bamboo shoots until dry. Repeat if necessary until the overpowering smell is mostly gone. For dried bamboo shoots, you have to rehydrate them first then boil and rinse them several times, a long and tedious process.
For those who are new to bamboo shoots, here are some quick tips I learned. Avoid the raw ones that looked like they came straight from the ground. Not only are they a pain to cut open and peel, raw bamboo shoots have toxins and need to be boiled properly to remove them. Furthermore, they have to be boiled several times at home to remove the strong smell. Save yourself the trouble and avoid raw bamboo altogether. On the same note, avoid the dried ones, as you have to rehydrate them first. Nobody has time for that. Also, avoid the canned/jarred bamboo shoots. They tend to be on the woody, stringy and bland side.
The one you do want is the one in clear plastic vacuum-sealed bags with a bit of water. Some grocery stores may offer these bamboo shoots sitting in a water basin in the refrigerated section so you can choose the most tender ones. These bamboo shoots are not only tender, but they are already prepped and cooked so toxins are conveniently removed for you. Simply bring them home and boil them again to remove the strong aroma before putting them into your dishes.
What are bamboo shoots? These conical, yellow-colored (sometime white) tender shoots are cut from the bamboo plant as soon as they sprout out from the ground. They are similar in taste and texture to the artichoke and hearts of palm. Tender bamboo shoots provide a nice crunch and mild sweetness to a dish. One dish that I love adding bamboo shoots to is Vietnamese caramelized/braised pork belly. The bamboo serves as a blank canvas that nicely absorbs the flavor from the braised pork belly.
Fun story: I love bamboo shoots so I grew my own. I later found out that I planted an inedible variety. The little #(*”;$&@# cracked out of its pot and rooted into the garden. It’s now invasively taking over and reaking havoc in my soil. It’s an ongoing and losing battle as I try to dig them out every Spring. Fun times.
Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Belly with Young Bamboo Shoots (Thit Ba Chi Kho Mang Tuoi)
- 3 lbs pork belly
- 1 tablespoon salt for cleaning pork belly
- 6 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon pork/chicken/mushroom stock powder
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot
- 1 teaspoon thick soy sauce or homemade caramel cooking sauce
- 1 lb young bamboo shoots (slice thin)
- 1 teaspoon salt for cleaning
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup coconut soda/juice
Pork Belly Marinade
Young Bamboo Shoots
- Clean the pork. Generously coat pork belly with salt and abrasively scrub it into the meat, particularly the skin. Rinse pork belly under cold water then drain dry. Slice pork into 2x2 inch cubes then transfer cubes into a medium-size stock pot. Add water to cover and heat on medium high until water begins boiling. Turn off heat. Remove pork belly, rinse and drain dry once more. Clean pot and return to stove. Transfer parboiled pork into the cleaned pot. Marinate with fish sauce, stock powder, sugar, black pepper, garlic, shallot and thick soy sauce/caramel coooking sauce for at least 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in fridge for best results.
- In the meantime, clean the young bamboo shoots. Bamboo has a strong aroma. Boiling helps get rid of that strong aroma. Dried bamboo requires multiple boilings before it's ready for cooking. Fresh young bamboo shoots require less boilng. For this variety of fresh young bamboo shoots (see picture), I only needed to boil it once. In a small pot, fill it half way with water and bring it to a boil. Add the young bamboo shoots and salt (1 teaspoon). Boil for 10 minutes then drain content into a colander placed in the sink. Rinse the bamboo shoots with cold running water. Squeeze out excess water then drain dry. Set aside.
- In a large large skillet, add vegetable oil (2 tablespoons) and heat on medium high. Add garlic and sautee until fragrant. Add bamboo shoots and toss gently with garlic.
- Back to the parboiled pork, add water to pot until pork is just covered (about 2 cups) and cook for 1 hour on a low simmer uncovered. After 1 hour, add coconut soda/juice and young bamboo. Gently push the young bamboo underneath the pork to soak up the fatty goodness. Continue to cook on a low simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Garnish with cilantro or green onions (optional) and serve with rice.