Japanese cucumbers are a common thing to pickle for a Japanese tsukemono—literally “pickled things.” There are many ways that the Japanese pickle cucumbers and I am still trying out different techniques. This time I am using a lot of fresh ginger and marinating the cucumbers for a long time. The difference between a namasu and a sunomono is not in the ingredients, but in how long the vegetables are pickled for—days for the first and minutes/hours for the second.
I was planning a poké chirashi sushi—scatter sushi—for Sunday’s family dinner. Fish and rice is not enough to balance a meal, so I needed some vegetables to round out the dish. In Japan that usually means a variety of Japanese pickles (漬物, tsukemono). Most pickles take time, so I started making them on the Wednesday before the dinner.
Note: For the master poké chirashi sushi recipe, I took small serving of each of the pickles I had made and “scattered” them around my fish and rice—not counting the additional store bought tidbits. It has taken time to write up what turned out to be seven separate new recipes that all ended up on one plate.
Before the introduction of refrigeration, Japanese pickles were an important method of preserving vegetables. Japanese cuisine uses several methods of pickling—salt, rice bran, sake lees, soy sauce, vinegar, and miso. Each technique imparts its own taste and texture to the final pickle. Besides the basic pickling, you may also add a variety of ingredients to add interest/color/flavor to the basic recipe.
Karl’s Japanese Ginger Cucumber Pickles (Shōga Kyūri Namasu)
3 Japanese cucumbers
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 seal-able quart plastic bag
1. Slice the cucumbers very thinly.
Tip: A mandoline is very useful for making even, thin slices.
Note: I hold the cucumber by the stem end while I am slicing the cucumbers. The stem end of the cucumber contains a bitter compound that will spread to the rest of the pickles if you put it in with the rest as you are pickling. I toss the “handle” into the trash/composter.
2. Put the cucumber into a bowl and sprinkle the salt over the slices.
3. Toss the cucumbers to coat them with the salt and let them rest for 20-30 minutes.
Tip: The salt will draw off a fair amount of the moisture in the cucumbers that would dilute your pickling sauce.
4. Drain and rinse the cucumbers well.
5. Squeeze as much liquid as you can from the cucumber slices.
Tip: Be careful not to crush the slices into pieces.
6. Put the mirin, vinegar, sugar, ginger, and HonDashi in a seal-able quart plastic bag.
Tip: Seal the bag and shake to dissolve the sugar and dashi.
7. Press the air out of the bag and pickle for at least 20 minutes—for a sunomono—or up to two weeks for a namasu.
Tip: I wanted a good pickle so I let these cucumbers pickle for about 10 days. Flip the bag occasionally to ensure all of the cucumber slices are in contact with the pickling sauce.
Note: While this recipe is a bit small to use most pickle presses on, I put several bags of different pickles into my press and press them all together.
8. Squeeze out the excess liquid and transfer the pickles to a bowl.
Note: For this recipe I took, small serving of each pickle I made and “scattered” them around my fish and rice.