Updated: June 05, 2019
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All About Nukazuke, the Wonderful Japanese Pickles (+Recipe)

Tokyo

Nukazuke is a type of pickle that has been made for hundreds of years in Japan. The pickling method involves soaking the desired vegetables in a fermented rice bran mixture. The resulting pickles are not only delicious, but also rich in probiotics, which make for a happy digestive system.

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Nukazuke? What's that?

Nuka (糠) is the Japanese word for 'rice bran,' and zuku (漬く) means 'to pickle.' Thus nukazuke literally means 'rice bran pickle.' Good nukazuke has umami, saltiness, sourness, and a nice, balanced flavor.
nukazuke_next_to_pot
Nukazuke is made by submerging vegetables in a bed of fermented rice bran (called nukadoko 糠床)and letting them sit for anywhere from half a day to a week. As the vegetables sit in the mixture, lactic acid bacteria feeds off of the vegetables, fermenting and giving the pickles acidity. This is where the lovely sourness of nukazuke comes from.
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Rice bran

Nukazuke can be made from almost any vegetable, but some of the most commonly used are daikon radishes, eggplants, cucumbers, and carrots. The vegetables are usually rubbed with salt before being buried whole in the fermented rice bran.
nukazuke_with_traditional_chopsticks

How to make your own nukazuke!

It can be tricky to find nukazuke outside of Japan, but if you're feeling a little adventurous, making nukazuke at home isn't too difficult! As with making any fermented food, there are many variables that can affect the result (temperature, ratio of ingredients, vegetables used, humidity, etc.), so a certain amount of trial and error is necessary to achieve a good result. NOTE: it is very important to keep everything very clean so as not to introduce any bad bacteria to the mixture!

Making the nukadoko

nukadoko_mixing
Mixing the rice bran, salt, water, and seasonings
Making a nukadoko takes 2 to 3 weeks. However, once you've made a good nukadoko, you can pickle vegetables right away, whenever you want! I use ratios instead of specific measurments in my recipe, as different readers may want to make a different size nukadoko. Here are my insturctions:

Ingredients:
-rice bran
-salt
-water
-konbu
-katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings)
-chili peppers (dried is fine)

1. Get a large container. Traditionally, ceramic pots like the one in the above picture were used, but a glass or plastic tupperware container will also work just fine.

2. Mix the rice bran and water in a 1 to 1 ratio. Add 13% as much salt as rice bran (if you used 1 kg of rice bran, use 130 g of salt, etc.) The mixture should resemble wet sand, and you should be able to form it into a ball. If it is too crumbly, add more water. If too wet, add more bran.

3. Add a generous ammount of katsuobushi and a relatively small amount peppers and mix well

4. line the bottom of your container with a few pieces of konbu, and fill with the rice bran mixture. You're now ready to prime your nukadoko for pickling.

Prime the nukadoko

nukazuke_in_a_plastic_container
Before you can actually pickle any veges, you need to build up all the important bacteria that will do the fermenting. To achieve this, for the first couple of weeks, you'll need to feed your nukadoko fresh vegetables every few days to get the process started. Leave your container somewhere at room temperature (but preferably not above 30 degrees C).

Start on the first day by adding a few large pieces of a watery vegetable, such as cabbage or daikon raddish. Bury the veges in the bran mixture, and pack down the top, just as if you were burying something in the sand. Every 3 days (4 if it's pretty cold), remove the vegetables, brush any bran back into the container, and wring out as much water as you can from the vegetable back into the container (the old veges can be thrown into the compost). Repeat this process with new vegetables. For the first 2 to 3 weeks, thoroughly mix the nukadoko every day.

After a couple weeks, the mixture should start to smell a bit sour. This is a signal that the level of lactic acid bacteria has increased enough to start pickling vegetables. At this point, you should taste the rice bran mixture and remember what it tastes like. Also remember what is feels and looks like, so that you can recreate the recipe if it morphs overtime with use.

Pickling vegetables

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Now that you've got a properly primed nukadoko, you can start pickling vegetables!

1. Thoroughly wash the vegetables that you plan to pickle. lightly rub the outside of each vege with a small amount of salt.

2.Bury the vegetables in the nukadoko and leave them to sit for anywhere from a day to several days, depending on the conditions. If you are storing your nukadoko at a pretty warm room temperature, it might take even less than a day to pickle the veges to the desired level. If you are keeping it at a colder room temperature, or in the refrigerator, it will probably take several days. Experiment with different times until you get a result that you are happy with.

3.As you make more nukazuke, your nukadoko will change as it absorbs water from the vegetables or loses salt. If you notice that it looks too watery, or your pickles aren't tasting right, you will have to add some fresh rice bran and salt to the mixture to get it back to the way it should be. This will take some experience, but will become easier once you get familiar with the nukadoko.

Make sure that you always give your nukadoko some veges to eat, and don't let it sit empty for more than a week or so (in the fridge) or it will start to lose its bacteria.
DeLong
I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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