Friday, September 9, 2011

Burdock What the Hell is Burdock


Like most people, the only time I ever come across burdock root is watching episodes of the original Japanese Iron Chef. They seem to throw burdock in everything they boil, and having eaten my share of Japanese food, I'm pretty sure I've eaten it, but I couldn't tell you what it tastes like and couldn't identify its flavor blindfolded. While at Mitsuwa buying a bunch of Asian stuff, I came across a pile of burdock roots, each about a yard long, in the produce section. Burdock certainly doesn't look like food, it looks like a dirty stick. Now's as good a time as any to find out what burdock is all about, I assured myself, and six bucks later I owned a solid yard of dirty stick.*

I did some googling but got bored with it and decided to just boil some and see what was up. Turns out it tastes pretty dull and isn't much fun in the mouth**. Kinda like dirt crossed with a turnip plus rope. The smell of it while boiling was pretty interesting though, like a wet dog and a rotting tree stump. If you've ever taken a dog for a walk in the woods after it rains you'll know what I'm talking about. I decided on the spot to make some vegetable stock with the burdock and use that to make a risotto as a vehicle for the funk.***

I don't know if you're supposed to peel burdock, but the outside is the part that doesn't look like food, so I peeled it and cut it into one-inch lengths. The burdock being pretty long, there were a lot of one-inch lengths to deal with.**** I started the stock by slightly caramelizing an onion, some celery and an apple, chopped coarsely, and a mess of little carrots from a bag. When they were browned a little, I seasoned the vegetables with a handful of salt and added four or five smashed garlic cloves, a couple bay leaves and the burdock, then covered everything with water and let it come to a boil. Once boiling, I turned it down to a simmer. I skimmed the stock a couple of times out of habit over the course of about an hour, but the stock was pretty clean.

Using cold liquid to make risotto takes a long ass time so I like to have the stock on a light fire right next to the rice pan so adding stock doesn't bring down the temperature of the risotto. While decanting the stock into the warming pot I noticed that the burdock pieces had retained their structure through more than an hour of cooking, while all the other vegetables were reduced to putty. Curious, I threw one in my mouth and it wasn't half bad. Still underwhelming but the texture had improved, and I could see pores in the center of the root had opened up, which might allow for a dressing to penetrate and make it tastier. I reserved a dozen or so of the burdock chunks to dress for later and pitched everything else.

I tried a shot of the stock and it was pretty good. Had the sort of dirty undercarriage musk I associate with mushroom stock, but without the lingering sensation of rot and slime. If I needed mushroom stock for something I wouldn't hesitate to use burdock broth instead.

Anyhow, made the risotto, starting with a sofrito of diced apple (or was it pear? I can't remember for sure, but I want to say it was pear) onion and celery, and while that was underway I built the dressing for the burdock hunks by making a puree of a garlic clove with a microplane and emulsifying it with an egg yolk, mustard, some sesame oil, siracha, rice vinegar, salt and a little honey. I covered the burdock with it and let it soak in. The risotto was coming together nicely but as the dirty color of the burdock broth intensified in it, the color was starting to look  drab and a little shitty, so I made a plan to enliven the plate with a roasted red pepper puree. It's a pretty good quick sauce for anything starchy, just throw a roasted red pepper in the blender with a little olive oil, salt and vinegar and you've got a nice bright red sauce that tastes delicious. I built the plates with the risotto surrounded by the pepper sauce, then loaded the burdock chunks on top, scattered some alley herbs and shaved some parmigiano over everything.

The risotto was excellent, with the murky taste of the burdock***** broth brightened by the tangy dressing and red pepper sauce, and while the burdock wasn't an exciting vegetable to eat, it was a decent vehicle for a nice dressing and was the catalyst for this whole thing. Sort of like an asshole buddy who introduces you to the love of your life, he gets a pass lifetime for that. (vg) (v without egg yolk or parmigiano)



* Do I have to spell it out for you?
**Overheard at the PRF BBQ
***"Vehicle" by the Ides of March is pretty funky
****Overheard at Quenchers pre-PRF BBQ
*****While I was typing that last bit, I mis-typed burdock as "buttdock," which was too good to just erase

12 comments:

  1. haha.. 'buttdock'...i've used burdock in stocks in the past but only in restaurants i was working in. It's never come to mind when im cooking at home. i guess its the classic 'umami ' taste they are always name dropping on food network.

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  2. I don't know if it's the same thing, but that rhubarb-looking weed that grows in every vacant lot is also burdock. If it is, you could save yourself 6 bucks.

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  3. steve, like 80% of the stuff you make has some sriracha-based emulsion drizzled over it. please, get a new drizzle. expand your dressings!

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  4. chris newcomer, do you know how to work the labels box on this thing? Because when I come up with a new drizzle I can mention it there. Don't hold your breath. The Siracha aoli is really delicious.

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  5. At what is possibly my favorite Japanese joint in NYC (Kenka - which means "fight" in Japanese - why didn't I take Eugene R. there?) they serve a traditional dish called Kinpira Gobo, which is carrots and burdock sauteed in mirin, soy, and some sugar with a smattering of chili flakes. It has a nice texture, and I'm sure you could add other vegetables to it as well.

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  6. Just found this site Steve,and whilst you confess not to be a cook,i am inspired.put in a whole load of seeds in the backyard,e.t.c.
    As far as pasta goes,i would imagine you use pre~packaged for the speed needed to feed you and your lady,but have you made a lot of your own?

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  7. Peel the burdock, cut it into matchstick size sticks and saute it (until soft, yet still slightly crunchy) with soy sauce, diced red chiles and sesame oil. Add some sesame seeds and ground Szechuan pepper near the end. It should have a sort of "earthy-bamboo-shoot" like flavor and texture. If you don't peel it, it's going to taste like crap....hence the dirt flavor you ended up with.

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  8. Dave Dauncey, yes I make pasta from scratch all the time, especially ravioli. There are a couple of homemade pasta dishes in the blog if you go back a bit. Tim, I peeled the burdock because it looked like something you're supposed to peel. I like the sound of your thing and I may try that if I ever find myself with more burdock on my hands.

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  9. Oh, I missed that part...DOH! I usually read your blog after a few drinks. It's best that way. But really, thanks for posting these recipes. It's a great resource for us amateur foodies.

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  10. Try slowly caramelizing the gobo and making a purée. Would pair really nice with that venison. Also, look for salsify next time. It is similar to burdock but is more subtle.

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  11. gonna have to try this. sounds great.

    not that you didn't already know but the deadly pickled burdock, aka "Gobo" is quite nice in sushi and similar dishes. I make a bowl of [brown] sushi rice w/ diced gobo, avocado, umeboshi plum, pickled Daikon radish slices, a few tofu steaks soaked in soy and some heavy dashes of Nori Furikake [seaweed rice seasoning].

    Enough sodium + MSG for a lifetime! ;) and (V) friendly. PS. great meeting you after the Shellac set in the bowling alley at ATP!

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  12. Thank you very much, not that I understood all of your throw-away comments (e.g. about "funk"), comes of being divided by a common language, I imagine. Anyway I will certainly give this a try, as the sheer enthusiasm of your writing and experimentation is a great encouragement. Incidentally burdock as noted above is indeed very common, and it seems you should dig the roots up in the spring, since at the end of the flowering season they are reputedly worthless. All the best, old gobbo

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