There are two main types of bamboo – clumping and running. Clumping bamboo can be kept contained but the running type is what may give pause for concern. The running type of bamboo, which is what we typically envision when we think of bamboo, is spread by underground rhizomes that can run long and varying distances. As with many plants that send runners, new bamboo rhizomes are vigorous and can run deep. For someone like my father though, it poses no problem. Then again…he maintains an eight acre property and can afford to allow bamboo to happily reside in its several hundred square feet spot. In fact, the large stand greets visitors with a sense of serenity as it gently sways in a wind. For backyard gardeners though, it would be wise to either plant bamboo in a lovely container, to plant a clumping bamboo without fear of too much spreading, or to take the time and care to install a metal or concrete barrier so that running bamboo can grow in a contained space. The barrier would ideally be at least 60 mil thick, and at least 30 inches tall, peeking about 2 inches above ground.
New bamboo plantings need to watered regularly and kept from drying out. Aside from that, bamboo is not too fussy, and only asks for full sun. Bamboo can withstand cold and snowy seasons. In fact, during our last blizzard which dumped four feet of snow, I took notice of the bamboo pushed almost completely down to the ground and had a clear understanding of why bamboo is known as the great symbol of resiliency.
Clumping bamboo is typically harvested in summer/fall, while running bamboo is harvested in the spring at about 8 inches high. To harvest, cut at ground level. To make it simpler, do like my mom does – put on a pair of sneakers, and kick the bamboo shoots off – they’ll break off at ground level.
Bamboo shoots, ripe for the kicking!
Once harvested, bamboo shoots are best eaten within two to three days. To prepare the long, thin shoots of running bamboo, slice in half lengthwise as shown in the photo. Find the tip of the tender heart in the center of each side, and using your thumbs, cut the heart out of the bamboo shoot.
Bamboo shoots are a mainstay in Chinese cuisine. Bamboo shoots can be sliced in stir fry dishes, julienned in soups, and in any number of ways in between. Because bamboo shoots can be bitter and tough, it is necessary to cook them first (if you’re using canned shoots, first of all, you’ll be making an inferior dish - (I'm just saying!), and second of all, you won’t need to pre-cook).
Below, the recipe for braised short ribs and bamboo shoots. I almost laugh in anticipation of sharing this recipe as it is such a typical dish my mother loves to make - Extremely time-consuming, fairly complex, totally delicious, and quickly devoured. I urge you to make this dish using fresh bamboo at least once in your lifetime. It will give you an appreciation for bamboo shoots you could not gain otherwise.
Braised Short Ribs and Bamboo Shoots (serves 8-10)
1 pound short ribs, marinated for at least one hour
Marinade: 2T soy sauce, dash pepper, 1T sesame oil, 1T cornstarch
5 cups fresh bamboo shoots, peeled and pre-cooked (Boil in large pot of water for about 40 minutes, then drain and rinse in cold water. This step can be done ahead of time)
2T Shao Xing rice wine or sherry
2T rock sugar
1/8 cup dark soy sauce
½ T salt
Remove ribs from marinade and set marinade aside. In a large pot, brown ribs in oil. Add bamboo shoots and stir. Add marinade and water to just near the top of the meat and bamboo shoots. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to simmer. Add the wine, rock sugar, soy sauce and salt. Simmer for an additional 45 minutes or until meat is tender and sauce has reduced by half. To thicken sauce, remove about ½ cup of sauce from the pot and stir in about 2T of cornstarch. Add to pot. Raise heat, add cornstarch mixture and stir while cooking for another few minutes. Serve with rice.