Tsukemono are Japanese pickles. They are served with rice, and sometimes with beverages.
The most common kinds are pickled in salt or brine. Soy sauce, miso, vinegar, nuka, and sake are also useful for pickling.
Daikon, ume, turnips, Chinese cabbage, and cucumbers are among the favorites.
Traditionally, the Japanese prepared tsukemono themselves with a tsukemonoki. Pickling was one of the fundamental ways to preserve food. Nowadays, pickles, or tsukemono can be bought readily in the supermarket, but many Japanese still make their own pickles. Typically, all that's needed to make pickles is a container with the food to be pickled, salt, and pressure on top of the pickles.
A Tsukemonoki (vessel for pickled things) is a Japanese pickle press. The pressure was generated using heavy stones called tsukemonoishi (stone for pickled things) with a weight of 1 to 2 kilograms, sometimes more. This type is still in use, with the container being plastics, wood, glass or ceramics. Before tsukemonoishi came into use, the pressure was applied by driving a wedge between a handle of the vessel and its cover.
The weights are either stone or metal, with a convenient handle on top and often covered with a layer of food-neutral plastic. Another modern type of pickle press is usually made from plastic, and the necessary pressure is generated by turning a screw and clamping down onto the pickles.
Beni shoga is a type of tsukemono (Japanese pickle). It is made from ginger cut into thin strips, coloured red, and pickled in umezu, the pickling solution used to make umeboshi; the red colour is derived from red perilla. It is served with very many Japanese dishes, including gyudon, okonomiyaki, and yakisoba.
Beni shoga is not the pickled ginger served with sushi, which is called gari.
Bettarazuke is a kind of pickled daikon popular in Tokyo. It is made by pickling daikon with sugar, salt, and sake without filtering koji. Its name is taken from the stickiness of koji leftover from the pickling process. Bettarazuke has a crisp sweet taste.
On the night of every October 19th in the area around Takarada shrine, Bettara Ichi, lit. bettara fair is held to sell the year's freshly pickled bettarazuke.
Fukujinzuke is one of the most popular kinds of pickles in Japanese cuisine, commonly used as a relish for Japanese curry. In fukujinzuke, vegetables including daikon, eggplant, lotus root and cucumber are finely chopped, then pickled in a base that flavored with soy sauce. The end result has a crunchy texture.
The name originates from the tale of Seven Lucky Gods. In homage to the name, some varieties of fukujinzuke consists of 7 different kind of vegetables, adding sword beans (natamame), perilla, shiitake mushrooms and/or sesame seeds to the four main ingredients.
Gari is a type of tsukemono (pickled vegetables). It is sweet, thinly sliced young ginger that has been marinated inside a solution of sugar and vinegar. Gari is often served and eaten after sushi, and is sometimes called sushi ginger. Although many brands of commercially produced gari are artificially colored (in some cases by either E124 and/or beetroot red) to promote sales, the actual pickle is naturally pink in colour. This is likely the result of chemical compounds inside the ginger reacting or denaturing due to the added vinegar, thus creating a red color. However, many will find that even after pickling, the natural yellowish color of the ginger persists, and that is still a normal form of gari found (for a pinkish color, look for very fresh and young ginger).
Gari is usually eaten between dishes of sushi, as it is said to help cleanse the palate.
Gari should not be confused with beni shoga, a red pickled ginger.
Matsumaezuke is a pickled dish native to Matsumae area of Hokkaido, Japan.
It is made from fresh ingredients of Hokkaido. surume (dried squid) and konbu are swiped with wet cloth and then cut into thin stripes with scissors. Kazunoko are chopped into small bits, and carrot and ginger are sliced into smaller and thinner stripes than surume or konbu. These ingredients are then mixed with sake, soy sauce and mirin that were boiled once. Several slices of red pepper may be added. The mixture is stored in a cool location for a week before eating.
"Sakekasu" is remains of the rice when making "sake" or "minin", sweet rice wine for seasoning. A pickling bed is made by mixing "sakekasu", sugar and salt. Pickle vegetables, fish and meat. It has sweet taste and the best-know example is "narazuke"
Nukazuke are a type of Japanese pickle, made by fermenting vegetables in rice bran (nuka). Almost any edible vegetable may be pickled through this technique, though traditional varieties include eggplant, Japanese radish (daikon), cabbage, and cucumber. The taste of nuka pickles can vary from pleasantly tangy to very sour, salty and pungent. These pickles also retain their crispness which adds to their popularity.
The nuka-bed is traditionally kept in a wooden crock but ceramic crocks or even plastic buckets are also common. Many Japanese households have their own nukazuke crocks which are faithfully stirred by hand everyday. Due to varying methods and recipes, flavors vary considerably not only from region to region but also from household to household.
Pickles (tsukemono) are an important staple of Japanese cuisine, and nukazuke are one of the most popular kinds. They are often eaten at the end of a meal and are said to aid in digestion. The lactobacillus in nukazuke pickles may be a beneficial supplement to the intestinal flora. They are also high in vitamin B1.
Rice bran is first roasted, then mixed in a crock with salt, kombu seaweed, and water. Some recipes call for ginger, miso, beer or wine. The resultant mash, called nukamiso or nukadoko, has a consistency comparable to wet sand or cooked grits. Vegetables, apple peels, or persimmon peels are added to the nuka-bed everyday for at least a few days until a fermenting culture has been established. At this point nuka-bed is ‘live,’ meaning that it contains a culture of active single-celled organisms, mostly lactobacilli and yeast. Although nukazuke can be made from scratch, a bit of well seasoned nuka from an older batch is often used to ‘seed’ a fresh batch.
Unless an established nuka sample is used to seed a fresh batch, the ubiquitous lactic acid-producing colonies crucial to the fermentation process must come from sources such as the skin of the starter vegetables or from human hands.
Once the fermenting cultures have been established the nuka-bed becomes very smelly with an odor ranging from yeasty to fecal to savory. At this point the starter vegetables are discarded and pickling vegetables are buried in the bed for as little as a few hours to as long as several months for very strong flavor. Some sources recommend a maximum pickling time of one month. Others suggest that pickles can be left for years in a well-kept nuka-bed.
Because the process depends on colonies of live organisms, flavors and smells can vary considerably from day to day and the fermenting process slows in colder weather.
When ready, nukazuke pickles are removed from the bed, washed in cool clean water, sliced and served as a side to savory meals.
The nuka-bed must be stirred well daily to keep it from becoming putrescent, moldy or infested with vermin. The acidity, salt content and oxygenation provided by daily stirring keeps toxic microbes from growing in the bed. It is universally recommended that this daily stirring be done with clean bare hands.
Sometimes weights made of metal, stone or jugs of water are used the keep the nuka-bed under pressure, drawing water from the vegetables and speeding fermentation.
Nuka-beds are known to acquire subtle flavors from the surrounding environment and thus should not be stored in musty areas.
Additional amounts of rice bran and salt are added from time to time, and some recommend discarding portions of the old nuka to make way for the new. Water is usually provided by the vegetables buried in the bed. With proper maintenance nuka-beds can be kept indefinitely and are often passed down from generation to generation. Old nuka-beds are valued for their nuanced flavor.
Takuan (pickled daikon) are a related food which is often confused with nukazuke. However, takuan are often prepared with sugar and are left to sit rather than stirred daily.
Ginger, beer, orange seeds, persimmon peels or apple peels can be added to the nuka-bed for flavor.
Dried chili-peppers and or fresh garlic are often added either for flavor, to keep the bed from becoming wormy, or to keep fermentation in check.
When rice bran cannot be found, alternatives such as wheat bran or even cornflakes have been reported to work well.
Senmaizuke – made from daikon, this originates from Kyoto.
Shibazuke – usually made from nasubi (Japanese eggplant) or kyuri (cucumber), distinctive for its purple color.
Takuan is a popular and traditional pickle in Japan. It is made from daikon radish. In addition to being served alongside other types of tsukemono in traditional Japanese cuisine, takuan is also enjoyed at the end of meals because it is thought to aid digestion.
The first step in making traditional takuan is to hang a daikon radish in the sun for a few weeks until it is easily bendable. Next, the supple daikon is placed in a pickling crock and covered with a mix of salt, rice bran, optionally sugar, daikon greens, kombu, and perhaps chilli pepper and/or dried persimmon peels. A weight is placed on top of the crock, and the daikon is allowed to sit for several months. The finished takuan is usually yellowish, although most mass-produced takuan rely on food coloring for this effect.
Takuan is also popular in Korea, where it is called danmuji and used as a filling for gimbap or an accompaniment for jajangmyeon or any other dish.
Wasabizuke – I have heard of this, but have never eaten it. It is a grayish mush with vegetable flecks, made with wasabi and tofu kasu (what remains after making tofu).
Umeboshi (Japanese: ??; literally "pickled ume") are a type of traditional Japanese pickle, known as tsukemono, and are very popular in Japan.
They are usually round, and vary from unwrinkled to very wrinkled. They taste salty, and are extremely sour due to high citric acid content.
Umeboshi are often cited in Japan as being extremely healthy, despite the high salt content.
Umeboshi are traditionally made by harvesting ume fruit when they ripen around June and packing them in barrels with salt. A weight is placed on top and the fruit gradually exude juices, which accumulate at the bottom of the barrel. This salty, sour liquid is marketed as umesu "ume vinegar," although it is not a true vinegar. The salted fruits are then dried in the summer sun for about 3 days. Umeboshi made in this way keep extremely well (for decades or even centuries, see below), and are very salty (approx 20%).
Many modern umeboshi are not made in this way; usually less salt is used, and the ume are pickled in seasoned pickling liquid, or vinegar. These include umeboshi dyed red using purple perilla herbs (called akajiso), or flavoured with katsuobushi, kombu or even sweetened with honey.
Umeboshi are usually eaten with rice, in small quantities at a time due to its extreme sourness and saltiness.
As part of a bento (Japanese lunchbox), a single umeboshi is often placed in the centre of the rice to recreate the flag of Japan.
It is also a common ingredient in onigiri, rice balls wrapped in nori.