Fresh bamboo shoots, called mang in Vietnamese, are much better than canned, but they are difficult to find in the States. They have a crisp texture and a clean flavor that is irresistible. Fresh bamboo is grown around the world (including near Fremont, California, about forty miles southwest of San Francisco) and appears in Asian markets in the United States spring through early fall.
To prepare the fresh shoots for cooking, peel the tough outer leaves and trim the fibrous base, leaving a cone of tender, white flesh. Slice thinly lengthwise, and boil in salted water to cover for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. This removes the toxic hydrocyanic acid naturally present in the shoot. Remove from the heat and let cool, then refrigerate in the cooking liquid in a tightly covered container. They will keep for up to a week.
When fresh bamboo is not in season— or if you cannot find it near you— vacuum-sealed (my preference) or canned shoots may be substituted. They are sold ready to use (no boiling required) and the best are white or very pale yellow. Unfortunately, most canned bamboo shoots have an unpleasant tinned flavor and fibrous texture. When using canned or vacuum-sealed bamboo shoots, slice them first, then rinse them thoroughly under cold running water to remove any off flavor and any white residue that has accumulated in their ridges.