Japanese Fermented Rice Bran Pickles (Nukazuke)

nukaIf quick pickles (quickies!) are a one-night stand, then rice bran pickles are a long-term monogamous commitment. Don’t get me wrong; I love my nukadoko (the pickling “theater”, i.e. bed used to make nukazuke) for the magical, meaty, earthen pickles it can provide. But this has become more of a relationship, and less of a foodstuff. It needs attention every day – not just a thorough stirring from bottom to top, but also an assessment of its moisture level, its flavor profile, and its ambient temperature. After your nuka bucket becomes mature, it will be a lot more stable and less needy. but in the beginning, be prepared to puppy train your nuka bucket. If you do, you will be rewarded with a lifetime of probiotic-rich, fragrant pickles to accompany meat, fish, rice, and more.

Japanese Fermented Rice Bran Pickles (Nukazuke)
Serves: about 8 cups of pickling bed, suitable for numerous batches of pickles
  • 2 lbs. dry rice bran
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 T yellow mustard powder
  • ½ oz. konbu (about 2 6’x2’ pieces), broken up or cut into small pieces
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • ½ oz. ginger root, with skin, minced
  • 10 dried chili peppers
  • About 6 ½ cups water
  1. In a large and very clean bucket or bowl, combine the bran, salt, mustard, seaweed, garlic, ginger, and chiles. Add the water in 3 batches, mixing the rice bran pickling bed with your clean hands as you go. Stop adding water when the mixture has the texture of wet beach sand suitable for sandcastles - wet and clumping, but not pooling water. Keep the nukadoko covered loosely at all times to let in air but keep out insects and debris.
  2. Prime your pickling bed by immersing vegetable scraps into the bed, covering them completely, and then removing them (and for now, discarding them) one day later. Note that you could eat these priming vegetables, but for now they won’t have a great flavor.
  3. Scrape off as much of the rice bran as you can back into the bucket before discarding. And if your vegetable scraps are small, feel free to them up in cheesecloth for easier removal. For at least 2 weeks, but preferably 6, immerse and discard new vegetables daily, and stir the bed thoroughly, aerating it thoroughly from top to bottom, then patting down the piclkling bed into a smooth surface, being careful to wipe down the sides.
  4. Be sure to stir the pickling bed daily. If you need to go out of town, give a thorough stir, cover tightly, and store the bed in the refrigerator until you’re ready to return to daily stirring maintenance. Otherwise, keep the bucket or bowl covered loosely to let air in, but keep insects and other debris out.
  5. Note that if you have access to an existing batch of nukadoko, a half-cup or so will help your bucket jumpstart its fermentation.
  6. After about 6 weeks, your pickling bed should have fermented nicely with a pleasant, earthen smell and it is ready to use. Wash, dry, and peel large chunks of vegetables - whole, peeled carrots, turnips, or large chunks of daikon split lengthwise are a great place to start. For watery vegetables like cucumbers or celery, trim, peel, and rub with salt to extract water for about an hour. Rinse and pat dry before immersing in the nuka. Let vegetables sit for 8-24 hours to take in the flavor of the bed. Remove the vegetables, keeping as much of the bran as possible in the bucket. Rinse off any remaining pickling bed, pat dry, and cut into small pieces to serve.
  7. Making sure the nukadoko maintains the right level of moisture and cool temperatures is crucial. With proper care, this bead can be used almost indefinitely. However, if you don’t stir daily, or if the weather turns quite warm, or if your nukadoko gets too wet, the contents could take on a funky sour smell or grow moldy. If this happens, there are several things you can try to revive the bed: Pour the contents into another clean container and scrub the original bucket with very hot soapy water. To the nuka, add ¼ cup additional mustard powder, 1 ½ cups new rice bran, and another ⅓ cup salt. Mix it in completely and let it dry out, uncovered, in the refrigerator or in bright sunlight, 24-48 hours, stirring it very well to aerate it, top to bottom, 3-4 times per day.
  8. Makes about 8 cups of pickling bed, suitable for numerous batches of pickles.

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