The Japanese word for ‘pickle’ translates as “to alter without the use of heat." We explore a variety of the most traditional yet lesser known of the Japanese pickling world.
Miso-Zuke - Pickles in Miso
The history of Nuka—or rice bran—pickling dates back to the Edo period of Japan (1603-1868) during which the milling of rice became commonplace.
The bran, which is the part of the rice removed during milling, is mixed with water, salt, and Kombu and tended for several weeks to establish a pickling “bed.” Every day the bed must be stirred and a vegetable scrap is added and then removed the next day. Over several weeks, this bed becomes so microbially rich that a well tended Nuka Pot will pickle vegetables overnight. With care, a Nuka Pot can last a family for generations, with the character of the pickled vegetables maturing with the age of the bed.
The bran is the most nutrient dense part of the rice, particularly in B vitamins. Vegetables pickled in Nuka will be rich both in these nutrients and in Lactobacilli bacteria. Nuka pickles, like a lot of other Japanese Tsukemono, challenge our concept of pickle. They have some tang, however they are much more complex, absorbing so much of the character of their pickling medium. A Nuka Pot could be characterized as a pickling “oven.” It is the creation of a vegetable habitat teeming with activity, ready to transform any introduction in a remarkably short time period.
Takuan pickles are sun-dried daikon pickled in a bed of rice bran and salt. We are intrigued by Japanese pickling traditions in part because of how they employ unique mediums such as rice bran, miso, and sake lees. This tradition utilizes “waste” materials from rice milling to impart both impressive nutritional value and unmatched concentrated taste to these pickles.
This pickle is named after Takuan Soho (1573-1645), a Zen priest who was exiled from the priesthood for rejecting the formal approach of Zen discipline in favor of the reflection of true spiritual insight. He is author of the book The Unfettered Mind: Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master. During his lifetime, rice milling gained increasing popularity in Japan, hence the abundance of the nutritious bran. Takuan Soho encouraged the proliferation of rice bran pickled daikon throughout the country, and indeed it is still enjoyed in Japanese cuisine today. The bran is rinsed off, and the takuan are sliced very thinly, most commonly eaten very simply with rice. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find traditionally produced takuan, as modern varieties utilize artificial color, sweeteners, and stabilizers.
We love making Takuan at The Shop. The daikon we use has been selected for its uniform size and is delivered with the greens still attached. We begin by hanging the daikon to dry in the windows. They are such great Shop decoration. In the mornings with the dappled light pouring through the foliage covering the large windows that comprise the eastern wall, The Shop feels festive and magical. We dry the daikon for about 8 days, until they become soft and pliable. This drying will provide the pickle with a wonderful chewy texture and keep moisture from flooding the rice bran. We create a mixture of rice bran, turmeric, chili flake, kombu salt and sugar. We remove the greens and spiral the daikon into a crock, layering in the dry rice bran mix. The crock is weighted with a bag of small clean pebbles. Pebbles are used because we can easily fit them into odd shaped vessels and the weight can be quickly adjusted.
We allow the daikon to ferment for anywhere between 4 and 10 months. We have always considered takuan to be one of the more challenging pickles to make. This is due primarily to the duration of fermentation and with the drying process. If there is too much moisture in the daikon it provides conditions optimal for lactic acid creating bacteria. It is quite easy for the ferment to pick up a distinct lactic tang. This is to be expected to some extent. Lactobacillus is ubiquitous, especially in our Shop. What we want to dominate, however, is the smokey yeasty quality that fermented rice bran brings to the palate. So we check on them often hoping to catch the moment.
There hasn’t been too much of a market for these more obscure pickles. We have continued to make them for the love and learning. But recently, as people become more aware of what we do, we have seen an increased interest. The last batch we made took eight months to ferment and yielded thirteen jars. They were all sold in within two weeks. We will be making more.
We change the way we do the Taukuan a little each batch. Here is one of our recipes:
4.5 kg daikon, air dried for 5-10 days until soft and pliable
1.5 kg rice bran
95 grams salt
95 grams sugar
13 grams turmeric
1 strip of kombu cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Combine the bran, salt, sugar, turmeric and kombu. Spiral the daikon into a 5 gallon crock and layer between one inch of the rice bran mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and/or a piece of clean cheese cloth. Press with 3-5 lbs of weight.
Try the pickles every two months and observe how they change over time. They are different and delicious.
Kasu. Sake kasu. Sake Lees. Dregs.
Tapping into waste streams and re-purposing for deliciousness.
After a tank of sake has run the course of its fermentation—anywhere from 18 to 32 days—what remains is a white mixture of sake, rice solids, and yeast. This mixture, known as the moromi, is pressed to separate the sake from the suspended solids. There are several methods of pressing the sake out, leaving compressed rice solids, or lees, behind. This is Kasu.
Larger sake producers extract the sake from the lees by machine and the kasu comes out in thin dry sheets called itakasu. Smaller producers may press their sake by hand using a wooden box called a fune, which has a lid that gets cranked down on the sake mash, or moromi, which has been placed in small canvas bags. This method will yield a kasu that is moist and chunky called teshibon or namakasu
Kasuzuke or vegetables pickled in kasu, are said to have originated in the Kansai region of Japan as early as twelve hundred years ago. The first vegetables known to be fermented in kasu were white melon and were named shiru-kasu-zuke or Nara-zuke. Later, the technique would used with cucumbers, eggplants, and uri or bitter melon. It was produced primarily by Buddhist monks and used by Samurai for sustenance in wartime and winter. During the Edo period of the 17th century, sake producers promoted the use of kasu widely. Not long after, kasuzuke would become a mainstay in the ever expanding repertoire of Japanese tsukemono.
We are fortunate to be located just blocks from Takara Sake one of the largest producers of sake in the United States. We have a long standing relationship with Takara, and after each pressing of their Certified Organic Ginjo Grade Junmai Nama Sake, they put aside about 150 lbs of kasu for us. The kasu has been pressed mostly dry at the factory and has a slightly sticky putty-like texture. Kasu is stored in the refrigerator and the cold makes it stiff and a little unyielding. We allow it warm in a bowl on the counter for the day and as it warms it becomes much more pliable and easy to work with. We knead salt and sugar into it until the dry sheets form a thick sticky paste. We then bury vegetables that have been salt pressed for two days into the paste . The vegetables ferment from three months up to a year or more. The result is a delightful and unique pickle with a distinct sake taste, quite unlike anything found in Western pickling traditions.
Typically we intend to ferment our kasuzuke for 12 months. With this in mind we have found that a ratio of 10:3:1 kasu:sugar:salt, works well for us. Those ratios will be adjusted down for shorter term ferments of vegetables that are more tender. One of our favorite kasu pickles is burdock.
Burdock. Arctium lappa. Gobo in Japan. It is the long tap root of a thistle. Dark and woody, it is deep in earthy overtones and slightly sweet. We wash the burdock well and press it at 6% salt for two days. The burdock is spiraled into a vessel and layered between the kasu-sugar-salt mixture. In the initial weeks of fermentation there will be a fair amount of carbon dioxide released and pockets will appear. To combat this, and insure optimal kasu to burdock contact, we weigh the ferment down.
Our burdock ferments for 12-18 months. One of our longer ferments, it needs that duration for the dense, sturdy root to ferment clean through. It is a testament to the hardy strength of burdock that after a full fermentation it retains most of its flavor and texture. Though the sake and koji permeate, it is still astonishingly earthy and woody.
For years we enjoyed this pickle sliced thinly on a bias. Wood chips, I called them. Wonderful, flavorful wood chips. Then I introduced it to the microplane. Burdock kasuzuke loves the microplane. A melt on your tongue snow of sweet earth.
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