Tsukemono – The Japanese Art Of Pickling
An intrinsic part of the Japanese way of eating, tsukemono pickles accompany most major meals. Salted, fermented, vinagered or exposed to a variety of micro-organisms from miso to fermented rice-bran, these vegetable side dishes are often pro-biotic, aiding digestion, and always full of that deliciousness we know as umami
Steeped in history and tradition, and with a wide range of styles and techniques the subject of tsukemono could fill several books. But, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we’ll approach tsukemono hands-on, starting with one of the simplest: miso pickling
What Is Miso?
That’s a long story too. We’ll cover some major points about miso later, including how to make it at home. For now, suffice it to that say miso is an aged micro-organism rich soy paste. Though complex in taste with varying degrees of sweetness the primary tastes are salty and umami – perfect for pickling vegetable
The variety of misos is great and can be daunting to the uninitiated. We’ll explore some of the major varieties in later posts. For now just remember this is a hands-on approach: use which-ever miso is available in your local shops and just get stuck-in
What about the vegetables?
Any vegetable with a good crunch can be pickled this way. Good examples include carrots, capsicums, radishes, daikon, cucumber … the list is endless. The vegetables can be immersed dirctly into the miso paste in a jar or pot, then cleaned off. A tidier method is to set up two thin layers of miso separated by a thin gauze or muslin: literally a miso bed!
What is the optimum pickling time?
Pickling times vary substantially with the type and size of the vegetable pieces, ambient temperature and of course, personal taste. Softer vegetables like radishes or cucumbers will be ready in an hour. Harder root vegetable may take 2-3 hours.
Vegetables with a high water content are best salted first to extract excess water, then rinsed to remove the all the salt before miso-pickling.
The best way is to check frequently until the taste and texture please your palate, then make a note for the next time.
How long will my miso last?
Live miso is best after 5 years. When using miso for pickling the moisture drawn from the vegetables eventually renders it unfit for the task. You should be able to use a batch for up to a month. Some suggest cooking it to remove excess moisture and any tendency to mould-growth. Though still flavourful, cooking literally kills the miso and I personally don’t recommend it. When your miso’s pickling career comes to a natural end use it in soups, stews, spreads, and marinades. Mix with a little honey or maple syrup, a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil and a splash of citrus or vinager to paint onto tofu, aubergines and other vegetables for roasting or grilling
Miso is a living organism producing a range of macro and micro-nutrients, including B vitamins and notably B12. Even pasteurised shop-bought varieties contains essential enzymes which will denature with boiling and long-cooking. As a general rule opt for adding miso to dishes at the end of cooking
Miso-Zuke: Miso Pickled Vegetables
- jar or pot with lid
- or zip-lock bag
- or flat wide ceramic dish with 3 layers of muslin or other fine cloth
Any Assortment Of Vegetables, such as
- white turnip
- radishes etc
- white or red miso preferrably unpasteurized
Miso Pickling Bed
- This is not necessary if you're immersing the vegetable directly into miso paste in a jar, pot or zip-lock bag
- Cut 3 pieces of muslin to the size of the pickling tray
- Using a small palatte knife spread an even layer of miso on two of the pieces of musline
- Lay the bottom layer in the pickling tray, miso side down
- Lay the second layer mido side up and cover with the third layer of musline
Prepare The Vegetables
- Wash, peel (if necessary) and cut the vegetables into strips or thick slices
- Vegetables with a high water content, such as cucumber, will benefit from salting first:
- Sprinkle a scant teaspoon of salt and mix with your fingers to cover the vegetable evenly with salt
- Rest for 15-30 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper kitchen towel
- Place the vegetables between the bottom and middle layers of muslin
- Allow to pickle 1-3 hours or longer according to taste
- Enjoy with a bowl of rice, some tofu and a pot of hot tea