Grilled as you like it

Nuka-zuke August 12, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,kansha — laurel @ 10:46 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Tsukemono – quick cabbage pickles from my shokutaku tsukemono no ki (front) and cucumber nuka-zuke (back)

I’ve been meaning to write about the Kansha Club more, really, I have. I wanted to write about the last few Kansha Club meetings but I never got around to making most of the recipes. It’s embarrassing really, that I have all these great recipes and advice from the author herself, and I just can’t seem to find time to make them. I have, though, gotten more inspiration to try new dishes from Washoku and some of my other cookbooks. But enough about that, on to the pickles.

Our last Kansha Club meeting (the third, if I’m not mistaken) was about pickling. Japanese pickles, or tsukemono, aren’t like the vinegared pickles that you can put up in your pantry forever that you might be familiar with. Some, like nuka-zuke, are quite perishable. There are many different kinds, each made according to it’s own technique, but in essence they are vegetables that have been transformed by drawing some of the liquid out and then developing their flavor with salt, vinegar, fermentation, and so on.

vegetables ready to be pickled, from left: cucumber, turnip, turnip greens

One thing that I have made time for recently is my nuka-toko. Elizabeth shared a few cups of her nuka with interested club members so that we could start our own nuka pickling pots at home. I’ve been tending my pot for the last few weeks by turning it daily and checking the additions. My pot is a 3.6 liter ceramic lidded crock for tsukemono. It is narrow at the top and bottom and wider in the middle. Apparently the straight-sided pots are better for nuka-zuke while this shape is good for umeboshi, but I had already bought the pot when I learned that and actually I have had no problems with the shape so far.

I started with Elizabeth’s nuka and added about a kilogram of iri-nuka (toasted rice bran) that I had leftover from preparing fresh bamboo shoots earlier this spring and several tablespoons of dry mustard (a special blend available in Japan for making nuka toko). I moistened the nuka mixture with water (you can use beer too) and then added a few cloves of garlic, some togarashi chiles, slices of ginger, fresh sansho berries. Then I mixed it up and put the lid back on. Later I added some more items that Elizabeth had suggested: washed, dried, and crushed eggshells and leftover iriko (dried sardine) heads. I turn the mixture daily to mix and aerate it. It has a bit of a sour, almost peanut-buttery smell that I’ve grown quite accustomed to. After about a week it was ready to pickle.

To make nuka-zuke, I scrub my vegetables with salt, rinse, and push them into the nuka, patting the nuka down over the top. In the warm summer, the yeasts in the nuka act quickly, and my pickles are ready to eat in just an hour or two. When you’re ready to eat them, just pull them out of the nuka, turn it, and rinse and slice the pickles. I’ve been sticking with turnips and cucumbers so far, but I think I’ll drop by the pickle counter at my grocery store soon to get an idea about what other vegetables I can make into nuka-zuke.

copyright 2008 LMS


9 Responses to “Nuka-zuke”

  1. Jon Says:

    That is so interesting. I have been reading about nuka-zuke recently, and have wanted to make my own nuka bed. I found your blog post to very informative and have bookmarked it. This, when coupled with the article that I read on wikipedia about nuka-pickles, really gives me a fairly rounded idea of how this all works. I would, however, like to know if you could give a step by step process of how someone who does not know someone to get a starter from. How hard is it to start a nuka bed from scratch (without a starter)?


    P.S. I’ve added your RSS feed to my RSS reader, so I hope to hear back from you. Thanks again.

  2. laurel Says:

    Hi Jonathan, I don’t think it’s too hard to start a nuka-toko from scratch, but I’ve never tried it. I found a recipe in “Tsukemono: Pickled Japanese Vegetables” by Kay Shimizu (1993) and another in “The Folk Art of Japanese Cooking” by Gaku Homma (1991); both methods recommend using sliced bread to introduce the right microbes to your nuka. Homma also gives an interesting variation he calls “America zuke” that uses white bread, beer, and salt for the pickling medium.

    Make sure to use iri-nuka (toasted nuka) or if you use raw nuka toast it in the oven or on the stove briefly to prevent the bran from turning rancid.

    You can moisten the nuka with water or beer, and it should feel a bit like damp sand. For flavor, you can add kombu, dried chiles, sansho berries, powdered mustard, dried iriko heads, dried persimmon peels, and so on.

    For the first week or so, put some vegetables such as cabbage leaves in the nuka overnight, but discard them in the morning. After a week or so you should be ready to pickle.

  3. Marina Says:

    I just recently received a cup of nuka from a friend. I added some more bran, water, salt and then shitake mushrooms, dried chili and started making delicious carrot and cucumber pickles. Then I read that egg shells can enrich the pickles with calcium, so I boiled and crushed some shells and added them. But my nuka has become really stinky (like off egg). I’ve added extra salt and put it in the fridge to try to calm it down, but it seems to be getting worse… I’m thinking of starting a new nuka bed from scratch.
    Does anyone have any ideas on how I can save my stinky nuka?


    • laurel Says:

      Hi Marina, I’ve never had any trouble with an eggy smell from my nuka pot. In fact, I often add eggshells when I think that the nuka is becoming too sour or strongly flavored. I wash them well and then allow them to dry for a day or two before I crush them into the pot, but I never boil them first. Here is a link to an article by Elizabeth Andoh on creating and maintaining a nuka pot: http://bento.com/taste/tc-pick.html. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to provide more help, but good luck with your pickles.

  4. Jonathan Says:

    Thanks Laurel for your response. I’ll have to try that some time soon (Hopefully this next week 😀 )

    – Jonathan

  5. Bruce Fleck Says:

    I started a nuka bed about 5 weeks ago. Still no pickles.
    veges left in over night come out salty and limp, not sour and crisp.
    I stared with “stabilized” rice bran. Could that be the problem?
    I am getting tired of working the bed every day and not getting anything out of it.

    • laurel Says:

      Your vegetables will become softer as they pickle in the nuka–they won’t be crisp like American-style vinegar pickles. They should come out salty, a bit sour, and with a mild “funk” from the fermentation. It is a distinctive flavor, not everybody likes it. If they are too limp or funky for your taste, try removing them from the nuka sooner. If the weather is very warm, it may take just a few hours to pickle.

      “Stabilized” rice bran sounds like it has been toasted to prevent rancidity. That’s a good thing.

  6. Where in NJ or PA if not USA can I buy IRI NUKA?

  7. koko Says:

    May I ask you where you bought this nukazuke pot from? Do they sell it in the U.S.?

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