The best thing about running Country Workshops woodworking school classes is the interesting people we get to meet and the many friends we have made over the years. We met Ryo and Mia Iwasaki because they are neighbors of our mutual friends the late Marlin Mathiessen and his wife Kathy, and live just on the other side of the mountain from us in Tennessee. Marlin enticed Mia into coming to woodworking classes, and she soon became a good friend and even serves on the board of Country Workshops. Mia translates when we have Japanese visitors and is my go-to person for any Japanese cooking questions.
Ryo and Mia tend a small, intensive garden full of wonderful Japanese vegetables like daikon, nira (garlic chives), and kabocha squash. They also planted a grove of bamboo in one corner of their yard to provide both beauty and a tasty spring harvest of bamboo shoots. Mia came over last week with a bag of freshly dug bamboo shoots, another bag of what looked like burnt locusts or grasshoppers, and a small tub of dark paste. She was very excited about what she had to share, so we took a leap and stuck some in our mouths. The bamboo shoots look prehistoric and have a crunchy and mildly wild taste. The unidentifiable black things turned out to be fermented garlic cloves–sweetly intense and can’t-stop-eating-them good. The little tub held fermented garlic butter, which we slathered on bread and everything else in sight.
These are very fun ingredients to play with, so I got the details of how to prepare them from Mia.
Harvest bamboo shoots in early spring when the shoots are 3 to 5 inches tall. Older shoots will become tough and woody if allowed to grow taller. Cut the shoots off with a sharp knife or pruners at ground level, or slightly below if your soil is loose. Mia boils her shoots in water that has been used to rinse white rice. She says the residue that washes off the rice eliminates any bitterness in the shoots. Plain water is fine, also. Boil the shoots until tender, up to one hour for large ones. Let the shoots cool to room temperature in the water. Mia stores hers in the refrigerator in the cooking water until ready to use. Very young and tender shoots are delicious eaten raw.
The bamboo shoots were so beautiful to look at, I served them as they were, as an accompaniment to Thai curry. Here are more ideas from Mia:
* Slice them up and add them to stir-fry.
* Cook them with steamed rice: Wash and drain rice. Place in a pot or rice cooker and cover with slices of bamboo shoots. Add 2 Tbs soy sauce, 2 Tbs sake, 1 tsp dashi powder, and 1 cup water per cup of rice. Bring to a boil and allow the water to boil down to the surface of the rice over medium heat. Cover tightly and cook over very low heat until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to sit 10 minutes before serving.
* Spicy Bamboo Shoots: Sauté bamboo shoots in toasted sesame oil 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 tsp minced ginger, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes (or to taste), and 1 Tbs. soy sauce (Mia adds a little Chinese soup broth powder instead of soy). Stir until the shoots have absorbed the flavors.
Mia made her batch of fermented garlic with 20 whole garlic bulbs. Separate the cloves but leave the peels on. Place the unpeeled cloves in rice cooker or slow cooker set to “keep warm”. Stir once a day for 3 weeks. The fermented garlic will turn very black, soft, and sweet. Peel the garlic before using, or just pop the whole thing in you mouth and enjoy.
We ate the peeled cloves straight, put them on crackers with goat cheese, used them in cilantro/sorrel pesto, and wrapped them up in grilled zucchini. All good.
Fermented Garlic Butter
Mash 1/4 lb best quality room temperature butter with enough peeled fermented garlic cloves to make an impact–12 to 24 cloves, depending on your taste. Use a fork or food processor, whichever you prefer.
We ate our blackened garlic butter on bruschetta and on cornbread, topped with watercress. I used some on top of salmon steaks, wrapped in rhubarb leaves and slow-roasted @ 250 degrees F for about 18 minutes. The butter would be equally good to top grilled steaks and is delicious to flavor plain rice.
Who needs truffle butter?