Kinpira gobo (金平牛蒡, literally "gold flat burdock"), is a popular side dish in Japan. It's often used to fill one of the compartments in bento boxes, and is made with burdock, the taproot of a common plant found in many places around the world. Burdock is loaded with fiber, vitamin B-6, potassium and magnesium, and aside from being pretty good for you, it has a delightfully crunchy texture and earthy taste that's truly addicting when turned into kinpira.
While every household has their own way of preparing kinpira gobo, I like to start mine off by frying some finely chopped skin-on chicken thigh to render out some fat. This becomes the fat used to saute the burdock giving it a wonderful flavor. While it may be tempting to use skinless chicken or even breasts, don't do it! The chicken is there for two reasons, to add fat to saute the burdock, and to add flavor. Skinless thighs won't render enough fat, and breasts have neither the fat nor the flavor.
For the gobo, I like to julienne it as thinly as possible so that it's more of a quick sauté than a simmered dish(the way some people prepare it). Combined with a particular way of cutting the burdock with the grain, instead of against it, this technique gives the finished kinpira a marvelously crunchy texture.
Because burdock oxidizes very quickly turning the white flesh a muddy grey, it's important to work in small batches and to always keep it soaked in an acidic solution (vinegar or lemon juice in water will work).
Gobo can be a little tough to find in stores, unless you live near an Asian grocery store, but it literally grows like weeds all over North America. You'll need a shovel to dig up the long taproot, but the top of the plant looks like this.
If you do decide to forage for your budock, please do your research and be 100% certain you've identified it correctly as eating the wrong plant could be toxic.
There's one last bonus fact about gobo I wanted to share before I get to the recipe. A Swiss electrical engineer was once inspired by burdock seeds clinging to his clothes and dog after going for a walk, which led him to invent the hook and loop fastening system we now know as Velcro!
For the chicken
For the kinpira
- Chop the chicken into 1/4-inch pieces and marinate with 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sake, and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.
- To julienne the carrots, cut them into 2-inch lengths, and then slice them lengthwise into 1/10-inch (3mm) thick slices. Line up the slices and slice them into 1/10-inch thick sticks.
- Fill a medium bowl with water and mix in 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Peel the burdock in sections and cut off 2-inch lengths, adding each piece to the acidic water immediately.
- Take a piece of burdock and slice it lengthwise into 1/20-inch (1.5mm) thick slices (a sharp mandoline can help).
- Line the slices up and julienne into 1/20-inch sticks. Return the julienned burdock to the acidic water and repeat with another piece.
- Prepare the seasoning by mixing together 1/4 cup sake, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
- Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the marinated chicken in a single layer and fry until browned on one side, and then stir fry until the fat from the skin has mostly rendered out.
- Drain the burdock and add it to the pan along with the carrots. Saute until everything is well coated with oil from the chicken (about 1 minute).
- Add the seasoning mixture and cover with a lid. Steam the kinpira for 1 minute.
- Remove the lid and continue sautéing, stirring constantly until all the liquid has evaporated.
- Plate the kinpira gobo and garnish with some toasted sesame seeds.