Gobo or burdock root is a vegetable that really tastes Japanese to me. It has an earthy quality and deep flavor that really adds character to many dishes. Unfortunately for me, it’s really hard to get a hold of in the part of Europe where I live. So, whenever I am in Japan or for that matter in the New York City area of the US, I indulge in gobo as much as I can. (In the US these days you can easily get burdock root from Japanese or Korean groceries, as well as some general supermarkets in some areas.)
Gobo is available year-round, but its true season is the fall to winter months. Since the root is quite fibrous, one of the usual ways to prepare it for Japanese recipes is to shave it very thinly. This cut is called sasagaki (笹掻き), which means to cut something as fine as sasa no ha(笹の葉) or bamboo leaves. It’s not a cutting method you encounter in other cuisines, so here’s how to do it step by step.
First, scrub the surface of your burdock root well. In Japan you would most likely use a tawashi or natural bristle scrubber, but you can use a vegetable brush. There’s no need to peel the roots.
With a sharp knife, make vertical cuts into the root, about 7 inches (20cm) from the end.
Hold the uncut end of the root. Now shave the cut end of your root thinly, preferably right over a bowl of water to catch the shavings. Pretend the root is a pencil and you are sharpening it. Rotate the root as you go.
The shavings should be quite fine and thin.
Keep going until the part you are cutting (where you put in the vertical cuts) is just about gone.
Then, make new vertical cuts into the root, about 7 inches (20 cm) or so in, as before, then keep making thin shavings.
When you can’t make shavings any more, just slice up the remainder as thinly as possible.
There you have your sasagaki gobo. You’ll notice that the water you dropped the shavings in is a yellow-brown in color. Just dump the shavings into a colander and rinse them lightly to get rid of any bitterness or overt earthiness.
You can do the sasagaki cut on any cylindrical root vegetable. It’s great for fibrous roots like salsify or parsnip, and is a nice change of pace for carrots too. It may take a bit of practice to be able to do a large mound of it quickly, but the results are really quite nice.
Note: We used a rather large kitchen knife here, but you can use a small peeling knife or fruit knife instead, for better control.