With swimsuit season in full swing, many will be keen to keep the greasy meat out of their recipes and turn to lighter ingredients that will freshen their day. Bamboo shoots and mushrooms have long been a part of the traditional Chinese diet, usually in a more supporting role, but if you turn them into the stars of the dish, the texture and aroma they offer will exceed all your expectations. Since braised mushroom and bamboo shoots are considered a classic dish in Shandong cuisine, we chose Chef Yu Peng from Qingyunlou restaurant, a Beijing restaurant brand famous for its Shandong style that dates back over a hundred years ago.
“Its flavor is better than camel hump or civet cat meat!” Hey, don’t jump to conclusions. It’s not a rare wild animal on the menu, just a quote from poet Lu You (陆游, 1125-1210) on a treasured forest vegetable—bamboo shoots (竹笋 zhúsǔn). Inside layers of brown husks covered in harp hairs, the conical, creamy-colored tender delicacy is one of nature’s greatest gifts. Three thousand years ago Chinese people believed it to be one of the tastiest things on earth. Pickled bamboo shoots were actually listed as offerings to the gods according to Rites of Zhou (《周礼》Zhōulǐ), an ancient ritual text.
Bamboo shoots are delicious and rich in nutrients such as protein, amino acids, and potassium. According to the TMC bible Compendium of Materia Medica (《本草纲目》Běncǎo Gāngmù), the bamboo shoot “quenches thirst, benefits the liquid circulatory system, supplements qi, and can be served as a daily dish.” Modern medical science has also found a number of benefits from bamboo shoots, from cancer prevention to weight loss and improved digestion. Low in calories and fat, bamboo shoots can certainly help to build a healthy and balanced diet, as suggested in the saying: 吃一餐笋能刮三天油 (chī yī cān sǔn néng guā sān tiān yóu), meaning, “a meal of bamboo shoots can scrape off three days worth of grease from your body”.
As one the largest bamboo producing countries in the world, China has over 200 different types of bamboo, mainly found in the south part of the country along major rivers. Fresh bamboo shoots are available all year-round, but timing is still essential; only winter and spring bamboo shoots (冬笋 dōngsǔn, 春笋 chūnsǔn) yield the best texture and taste. Winter bamboo shoots are collected in early winter when they are still underground. An expert collector only needs to look at the color of the bamboo leaves to decide where to dig. Collectors know not to take all the shoots and to leave some in order for them to grow into spring bamboo shoots. Around Tomb-Sweeping Day next year, collectors will set out to get the shoots again. When they start to emerge from the soil, there are only 10 days left to harvest them before they lose their tender nature and mature into actual bamboo. Rain fall at this time stimulates more bamboo shoots to break the ground, thus the phrase 雨后春笋 (yǔ hòu chūnsǔn), meaning “(new things) spring up like bamboo shoots after a spring rain.”
Though pricy in the national market, for the bamboo collectors, spring bamboo shoots are a common seasonal treat. Take some of the freshest bamboo shoots, cut them into small strips, add in bacon slices and cook with low heat for an hour or so. You will have a widespread Zhejiang folk dish 腌笃鲜 (yāndǔxiān) on your table. Unseasoned bamboo shoots taste plain, even with traces of bitterness, but when cooked with other ingredients, it will absorb their flavors and add crunchiness to the overall experience.
Braised mushroom and bamboo shoots traditionally contain winter bamboo shoots and dried winter mushrooms, thus the name “Braised Two Winters” (烧二冬 shāo’èrdōng). With the spring bamboo shoots on the market, the dish will have to make do with one winter: the dried mushrooms. Follow Chef Yu Peng and enjoy the combination of ivory white spring bamboo and chocolate brown mushroom in no time.
Braised Mushrooms and Bamboo Shoots
100 g Winter Mushrooms 冬菇 dōnggū
100 g Bamboo Shoots 竹笋 zhúsǔn
200 g Chicken Broth 鸡汤 jītāng
1000 g Water 水 shuǐ
30 g Scallion Oil 葱油 cōngyóu
2 tablespoons of Oyster Sauce 蚝油 háoyóu
10 g Cornstarch 玉米淀粉 yùmǐ diànfěn
1/2 tablespoon of Pepper 胡椒 hújiāo
1 teaspoon of Sugar 糖 táng
2 teaspoons of Soy Sauce 酱油 jiàngyóu
1/4 teaspoon of Salt 盐 yán
1/2 tablespoon of Cooking Wine 料酒 liàojiǔ