Because of his Japanese heritage, Shin Thompson said, he was already familiar with burdock root—the taproot of the burdock plant, a type of thistle. "We use it quite a bit. Traditionally we steam and pickle the burdock root, but today I wanted to do something a little more interesting, nontraditional, a little bit different."
The flavor of the root vegetable is somewhat similar to ginseng, Thompson said. "Texturally, it reminds me a little bit of salsify. It has a mild flavor, a little bit sweet, and kind of an anise background." Despite its mildness, though, he thinks too much can be overwhelming. "It's not one of my favorite ingredients. The flavor is unique, but I think it's best when it works together with other ingredients."
He wasn't particularly happy with the quality of the burdock root he bought, however. "It should be firmer than it is, and it should be solid all the way through. I noticed that when I cut the first one." There were small holes in the cross section of the root that meant it had been around for a while, Thompson said.
He put the burdock root into a soup along with sauteed leeks, onion, celery, parsnips, and fennel, braising it first in a dashi (a traditional Japanese stock) of kelp, kombu, and bonito flakes. He then blended it, adding some cream. "I'm making a nontraditional soup, which is blended and has a thicker texture than the traditional Japanese-style broths," Thompson said. "This will be more of a French-style soup."
Thompson also pickled burdock root in rice wine vinegar, mirin, juniper berries, and fennel seed as a garnish for the dish. Other garnishes included a tempura-fried shiso leaf, sake-steamed clams, deep-fried strips of burdock root, and toasted paprika oil. Because the burdock root was blended into the soup, Thompson said, it added texture as well as taste. Its taste was subtle in the soup, and slightly more prounounced in the fried strips and pickles, but still not overwhelming. "Which was my intention," Thompson said. "As I mentioned, I thought the burdock root was better as an accent flavor than the dominant flavor."
Luke Creagan of Pops for Champagne (and former Bonsoiree chef de cuisine), working with bamboo worms. "I've only seen them once at a Japanese market," Thompson said. "I haven't worked with them—I've always wanted to, but I've never been able to find them here. But I haven't looked very hard either."