New ingredients are like amphetamines for kitchen creativity. From the moment I get home from a farmer’s market or an afternoon of foraging or hell, just back from a regular ‘ol grocery shopping run I’m jacked up! What is this crazy looking-stuff? Where did it come from? How do I process it and what can I do with all the bits? My mind is vibrating in a million different directions at once!
Last week I got a hold of some burdock root at the market in Courtenay and had just such a moment. These rough-looking tubers looked more like something dug out of a cat box than anything I’d serve for dinner, but The lady I bought ‘em from was insistent that they were a delicious spring delicacy! So yeah, I got ‘em home, mind ablaze and immediately starting hunting through my cookbooks for more info.
It wasn’t until I hit Shizuo Tsuji’s Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art that I realized that I’d worked with burdock a couple of times back at Wasabiya without knowing it. Ye’see, the Japanese call burdock Gobo and it’s much more of a staple than it is here. I remembered Hiro working with these dirt-covered tubers… And wished I’d paid a bit more attention.
Luckily my Japanese cookbook included cleaning and processing instructions so simple that even a Gai-jin like me could get ‘em down to their (relatively) softer bits with ease: Just a long, thorough scrubbing with a stiff brush under cold running water got most of the grime off without losing too much of the rough surface that Japanese connoisseurs prize. Once they are looking a little paler and a lot cleaner I just trimmed the ends and kept them soaking in water until prep time. Like potatoes, they will discolour if left out on the counter.
Gobo has a very dense, crisp texture that becomes more pronounced the closer to the surface it gets. The outside layer is so rough that it’s almost scaly yet still easily chewable, making it a unique addition to a variety of dishes or a whole new taste/texture sensation served all by itself. The root’s core is softer and has a very nutty, artichoke-like flavour.
It’s traditionally harvested in the spring when the roots are softer and sweeter (used for sautéed dishes like Kinpira Gobo) and later on in the autumn when they’ve grown to full density and become a tad more bitter (used in traditional Asian medicine). There are even varieties that grow wild around here, though I have yet to try my hand at foraging for ‘em.
I used half the burdock for a very satisfying stew with beef and miso and pickled the rest using a recipe pulled (once again) from Ikuko Hisamatsu’s book on Tsukemono. It’s a very simple recipe that takes about half an hour of chopping, cooking, pounding and marinating. There’s quite a bit of vinegar involved in both the cooking and preserving stages, which balances out the heavier, stickier sesame flavour and gives the final pickle the kind of zing that begs to accompany a cold glass of sake.
The only specialized piece of equipment the recipe calls for is a suribachi, a type of Japanese mortar and pestle ideal for grinding nuts and seeds. If you haven’t got one kicking around the kitchen you can pick one up Here or use a Magic bullet or similar style of electric blender/grinder. If you haven’t got one of those grab a couple dish towels and a heavy rolling pin.
Sesame-Pickled Burdock Root (Makes 2 medium-sized mason jars full)
1 Tbls (15ml) Rice Vinegar
4 Large Burdock Roots (600g, scrubbed and cut into 1 ½ inch matchsticks)
4 Tbls. (32g) Toasted Sesame Seeds
1 ½ Tbls. (22ml) Soy Sauce
4 Tbls. (60ml) Rice Vinegar
1 Tbls. (15ml) Mirin
½ Tsp. (2.5g) Salt
2 Tbls. (22g) Sugar
- Fill up a medium-sized pot with water and the first tablespoon of vinegar and bring it to a boil over high heat. Add the burdock pieces to the boiling water and turn down the heat. Slap a lid on and simmer the burdock for twelve minutes or until they are cooked through (just a step beyond “al dente”). Carefully remove the burdock from the pot and into a bowl of ice water. A minute later, when the burdock has completely cooled and you’ve got all your other ingredients ready to marinate, drain the water.
- While the burdock simmers, grind the sesame seeds in a suribachi or electric grinder until 70% of the seeds have been ground into dust and the remaining seeds are hurting, but whole. Leaving these whole seeds in the mix gives the finished dish an extra textural layer… Besides, your arm is probably tired.
- Mix the sesame seeds into the remaining ingredients to form a light paste and pour all over the burdock. Give it all a good mixing with your hands and pour into an air-tight container. The pickling process takes only one night, but gets better after a week or so. If left un-molested in its container the pickled burdock will last up to a month.
Music To Pickle Roots To:
Real Estate – Reality