2 or 3 pieces kampyō (see below), about 15 feet total
1 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher salt
1 teaspoon sake
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Few drops of aromatic sesame oil
Put the kampyō ribbons in a glass jar, add water to cover, and let soak for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours at room temperature. Remove the kampyō from the water. Reserve the soaking water to use as a flavorful stock in other recipes; it will keep in a lidded glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Apply the salt to the softened kampyō, rubbing as though you were trying to remove a spot from clothing. The gourd ribbons will become much softer and somewhat velvety to the touch. Rinse off the salt, squeeze out the excess moisture, and blot with paper towels. Using scissors or a knife, cut the ribbons into 1-inch lengths.
Make the marinade: In a bowl large enough to accommodate the ribbons, mix together the sake and soy sauce. Add the ribbons, turn to coat with the marinade, and then allow to sit for at least 20 minutes at room temperature or up to several hours in the refrigerator. Remove the strips from the soy mixture and blot up excess marinade.
Toss the soy-drenched strips in the cornstarch to dust them lightly. Set aside for 10 minutes. The reddish brown color of the soy will seep through. Shake the strips lightly to remove the excess cornstarch.
Pour the vegetable oil to a depth of at least 11/2 inches into a small wok or other pan with deeply sloping sides. Add the sesame oil and heat to 350íF. Check the temperature with an unvarnished long wooden chopstick (or a bamboo skewer). Small bubbles will form around the tip when the oil is about 350íF. Or, test the oil temperature by flicking a bit of the cornstarch you shook off of the gourd strips into the oil. If it sizzles immediately on the surface, drop in a strip of the dusted gourd; if it sinks slightly, surfaces immediately, and then begins slowly to turn golden, the oil is ready.
Fry the gourd strips in several batches. At first the oil will be quite foamy. When the bubbles calm, stir to ensure that all surfaces are frying evenly. Once the chips have turned golden, after about 11/2 minutes, remove them with a fine-mesh skimmer or a slotted spoon to a paper towel╨lined rack. Allow the chips to drain until they no longer have an oily appearance. Indeed, some pieces will look lacy or chalky.
Eat the chips immediately. Or, let them cool completely and store them in a zippered plastic bag or lidded container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Note: Kampyō (sun-dried gourd ribbons) Looking a bit like a spool of thread set on a large bobbin, pale green pumpkin-like gourds called fukubé are set spinning against a sharp blade. Coiled gourd ribbons form, which are then hung to dry in the sun. In the drying process, minerals and sugars are concentrated, yielding an aroma vaguely reminiscent of dried apricots. Sun-dried gourd ribbons (pictured on page 250) are used to tie up any number of edible packages, or they are simmered in a sweet soy broth or plum-infused sauce and used as a filling for rolled sushi.
Kampyō is sold in cellophane bags containing very long (several yard) or short (6-inch) ribbons. I suggest you buy the uncut gourd ribbons, since they offer more options when cooking. Stored in a closed plastic bag on a cool, dark shelf, they will keep for months. The dried gourd is, like other sun-dried ingredients, quite lightweight; most packages will contain less than an ounce. To help tenderize the gourd ribbons, many of the recipes that call for them as an ingredient will instruct you to rub the ribbons with salt that is later rinsed off.