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