Pickles of Asia

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Coming Soon to a Sister Site!
Information about Asian pickling will appear on the Asia Food website. The Asia Food people participated
in the Pickle Day event by staffing a table. To visit the site follow this link: http://www.asiafood.org

Pickling in China
A history of floods, droughts and famines taught the Chinese to stretch their food supply by using small quantities of meat and fish (not wasting any part of the animal) and by preserving foods for use at another time or season.

Pickle Logic and Methods: The Chinese philosophy of food is one that includes fresh, natural ingredients, a balance of taste, purity and texture and flexible and adaptable food habits. In China, many beans and vegetables, and even meats, fish, and eggs are fermented. Greens are usually half-dried before pickling so bacteria does not decompose the proteins as much.
Chinese pickle vegetables with either salt or vinegar brine made from rice, wheat, peaches, or grape juice. Salt is also used in combination with vinegar to keep foods, particularly fish and shrimp, edible for long periods of time.
Chinese pickles are made from vegetables, meat, fruit, and nuts in almost every type of preservative. Vinegar, acids, and amino acids are used to pickle meats such as deer, rabbit, and goat. Fruits such as watermelon, myrobalan (an astringent fruit from Southeast Asia), and Chinese plums are not eaten raw, they are eaten only after pickling. Hazelnuts are pickled and eaten to stimulate the appetite and digestion and to satisfy hunger. Cabbages are the favored vegetable for pickling.

Regional Pickles: Each region of China has its own distinctive pickle. In the western province of Szechuan dishes are hot, spicy and distinctly seasoned. There, the winters in the mountains are harsh and make pickling a necessity. A typical recipe for "pickled vegetables" the Szechuan style has a spicy brine of salt, Szechuan peppercorns, dried chili peppers, water, ginger, and gin. The brine keeps well for months, but the vegetables are only pickled for four to seven days. Northeastern China has an arctic climate; you will find preserved mushrooms, fish, and the "100-year-old" buried egg to last throughout the harsh winters. Vegetables are pickled in rice wine and mildly flavored with garlic, chives, and green onions. In the south, the weather is tropical and vegetables are used in large amounts. Fermented bean curd is used to season foods and provide the pungent flavor.

Japanese Pickles
Tsukemono: Pickles in Japanese Cuisine
"a bowl of rice with a small plate of pickles and some soup is not merely food, but cuisine..." - Ashkenazi
"Even in the dead of winter, one bite and you are in full summer again" - A Taste of Japan, Donald Richie
"It's enough for me to eat a bowl of rice with pickles and a miso soup." - Ashkenazy
"Mother eats seaweed and plum pickles / and when the Mormons come knocking / she does bird talk." - "Pearls" by Roripaugh

Rarely is there a meal in Japan where pickles, tsukemono, are not served.

For breakfast... A "proper" Japanese breakfast would include rice and miso shiru, okazu of fish and pickles. The pickles might include soft umeboshi, and matsutake (pine mushroom) and radish pickle.
For lunch (on the go)... Every day millions of Japanese trot off to school or work with a bento, a boxed lunch that almost invariably contains rice balls wrapped in seaweed with plum or pickles inside. Teishoku, a set meal, includes several varieties of tempura, plus rice, pickles, and soup. To form a complete meal, tempura is often served with soup, rice or noodles, and pickles.
In the market... In the outdoor market of Shimo-Kitawawa, stall owners shout their wares, and feature stands selling only a large variety of pickles (like Guss's!). Plums, radishes in vinegar, in salt, and in sake, dried and pickled fish, fresh bamboo shoots, several varieties of local miso pickles color the stands.
Before meals... Japanese pickles are often served in bars and restaurants as appetizers.
At everyday meals... While boiled spinach, eggplant and green beans are all typical side dishes, pickles are the most common (and convenient) vegetables served.
At feasts... a collection of sunomono form the final element of the main course. "pickles intended to see the rice through and to refresh the palate. Pickled slices of saba (mackerel), cucumbers, young shoots, and red peppers, were pickled in nanban ("Southern barbarian" [i.e., Spanish or Portuguese]) style, a delicate escabeche. These were served with small containers of freshly cooked rice: the necessary "center" of any meal." The traditional Japanese tea ceremony includes pickles.
Between meals... In farmhouses, a plate of pickled vegetables is a common daily snack. "A common snack offered to guests in rural areas is pickles, which more frequently twenty or more years ago than now, were home-made, and reflected specific household tastes. In Yuzawa … housewives would bring out glorious pickles: gourds stuffed with wild mushrooms, stuffed with chrysanthemum leaves further stuffed with bits of eggplant, the whole pickled in sake lees or bran."
After meals... Ending a meal with tsukemoni is a strong tradition in Japanese cooking.

Tsukemono History
In snow-covered mountain villages, especially, pickles were a sole source of vegetables until warmer weather brought fresh crops. Eaten with tea or rice, they were both delicious and nourishing.

Eighth century records discuss pickling salt vegetables more than 1,500 years ago. The variety of pickles in Japan increased gradually, reaching today's levels during the Edo Period (c.1603-1867).

In 1836, a pickle wholesaler in Edo (present-day Tokyo), published detailed instructions on how to make 64 kinds of pickles. During the Edo period, the tsukemonoya (pickle shop) came into existence. As time passed and the use of pickles got even more sophisticated, and were chosen to add color and texture to different kinds of food, or to clear the palate for a new taste (e.g., pickled ginger).

Pickling with rice bran adds vitamin B1 and has two other advantages: removing of some of the water produces a concentrated, high-fiber food, and the lactic bacteria present aids digestion.

Taste: Tsukemono offer color, texture and aroma to a meal, keeping their basic taste even after lengthy pickling, and maintaining their crispness and flavor even after being in the pickle pot for a year.

Pickles Today: Today, with vegetables available year-round, pickling is no longer essential. Pickles still provide an inexpensive and delicious alternative to ordinary vegetables and the art of pickling has evolved into a sophisticated means of complementing and enhancing the flavors of other foods.

Pickling traditions continue, passed down from generation to generation. Again, from A Taste of Japan. "after the war many Japanese mothers took to making their own pickles and whole generations grew up associating tsukemono and maternal care. The bond continues even now when the vast majority of pickles are store bought. Tsukemono are... a 'caring' food."

Types of Pickles and Methods
"It is said that in Japan there are four thousand different kinds of tsukemono and over one hundred different techniques for making them" - Richie.

There are endless varieties of tsukemono, including fruit, vegetables, eggs, seeds. Fish and meat are kept in miso or sake. Cherry blossoms are pickled (sakura no hanazuke) and served in hot water to mark special social occasions.
Ingredients vary with the season, but tsukemono are generally vegetables: Chinese cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, bamboo, turnips, burdock root, ginger root, kyuri (Japanese cucumbers), and Japanese eggplant (nasu).
The main pickling agents are salt, rice bran, miso (fermented bean paste), sake lees, malt and mustard. Weight and salt together force water out of the vegetables, promoting a slow process of fermentation. Regional recipes combine different methods with different vegetables: nara-zuke, Nara's famous pickled gourd or daikon in sake wasabi-zuke; shizuoka's wasabi is horseradish pickled in sake; kyoto's senmai-zuke is daikon sliced paper thin, sprinkled with red pepper and preserved in kelp. A lot are available commercially but many people make pickles at home because it's so inexpensive and easy.

In the simple and popular Shiozuke, or salt pickles, vegetables are salted in a earthenware jar and pressed with a heavy stone for several hours to several days. Today's modern Japanese kitchens use a "pickle press."
One-night salt pickles are called ichiyazuke. A long-term variety are umeboshi, tart, salty pickled plums or apricots, well-known and frequently eaten (often daily!). Umeboshi were first mentioned in 10th century writing. They were originally a disinfectant, then a medicine before becoming a favorite pickle. Popular at breakfast, many think umeboshi are a good appetite stimulant - one must eat a lot of rice to get rid of the salty-sour taste. Umeboshi can be used whole or in a paste.
Suzuke are pickles cured in vinegar. As Japanese rice vinegar has a low acidity, these pickles cannot be kept for long.
In nukazuke pickling, vegetables are covered with nuka, or rice bran, salt and dried chilies, for about three months. In many households, salt bran is kept in a cask or jar on hand. The most popular kind of nukazuke is takuan zuke, pickled daikon radish. Colored yellow with turmeric, the best season for natazuke is winter when the water freezes on the surface of the keg for keeping natazuke. Nukazuke have a pungent aroma, a tangy flavor, and gather vitamins and minerals from the rice bran. Unlike salt pickles, nukazuke only last for a few days once removed from the pickling medium, so it's best to eat them right after they are washed.
Japanese radish preserved in rice bran (crisp, tart, deep yellow in color). The most popular way to prepare daikon radish, legend has it the pickle was named for the resemblance of the heavy stone used in pressing to the gravestone of pickle inventor and vegetarian Zen Priest Takuan. But it is also said that the name came from "takuwae-zuke" = to preserve.
For Kasuzoke, a white liquor called sakekasu (made from the rice left from making sake) is combined with sugar and salt to make a pickling medium.
The oldest known variety, misozuke, is made by imbedding vegetables such as garlic, pumpkin, in miso paste. Miso pickles take a long time, sometimes years, to mature. To form the pickling base, miso is mixed with sake. A few ways to make misozuke using this quick parboiling method:
  • Carrots, burdock (gobo), parboil and pat dry inch long spears before embedding in red miso for at least 3 months
  • asparagus, parboil and pat dry before embedding in white miso overnight
  • beefsteak leaves (shiso), embed in red or white miso at least 1 month.
  • daikon, cut into rounds about ¼ inch thick (you can also cut them into half moon shapes). Embed in red miso for at least 3 months
  • Japanese cucumbers (kyuri), cut into rounds about ½ inch thick, salt press, then embed in red or white miso for at least 4 months
Koji, rice mold, is used as the pickling base (koji is also used in the manufacture of sake, soy sauce, miso and mirin). Bettarazuke, one kind of kojizuke, is daikon pickled in koji. This winter pickle is known for its sweet flavor and alcoholic aroma.
Vegetables can be pickled in shoyu, soy sauce, and mirin, a sweet liquid flavoring. Fukujinzuke is one of the most popular kinds of soy sauce pickles, and is the standard accompaniment to curry and rice. To make fukujinzuke, a mixture of seven thinly sliced vegetables (which could include white radish, eggplant, lotus root, ginger, shiso buds, turnip, shiitake, udo, sword beans, shirouri) is salted and pickled in soy sauce and mirin.
The famous pickle of Kyoto is made from turnip, salt-pickled for up to a month with konbu (a seaweed), mirin or sugar, and chili peppers.

Iburi Gakko
Around October in Akita, people dried radishes over the daily cooking hearth. The dried and smoked radishes were then pickled with salt and rice bran for two to three months, making "iburi gakko," or "smoked pickles."

Pickling in Korea
The Korean meal is based on rice and kimchee (literally, "pickles"). Kimchee originated from a need for food to last through the bitter cold winter months. Kimchee provided vitamin C that otherwise would have been hard to get.

Eaten since prehistoric times, kimchee is considered to be the national dish of Korea. Kimchee is not only an essential part of Korean cuisine, it is a symbol of Korea's culture, connecting Koreans to both ancestors and descendants. Kimchee is such an integral part of the Korean diet and culture that traditionally, a woman's ability was judged by the variety she could make: a good housewife could make twelve kinds of kimchee.

Pickling Techniques
A meal in Korea is not complete without kimchee. It is served as a side dish or condiment and can be an ingredient in other dishes. Its unique taste comes from fermentation. It is first salted, then seasoned; every kind of kimchee is made with sea salt which prevents spoilage and encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria. As the vegetables ferment and mature, they become tender, retain their crunchiness and the flavor becomes less salty, more sour and slightly sweet.

For cabbage kimchee, the most popular combination is chili, garlic, scallions, and ginger. Chili and garlic quicken the fermentation and allow for less salt, while scallions and ginger add flavor. The introduction of the red chili pepper in the 18th Century changed the flavor of kimchee and the way it was made. Through the 17th Century, kimchee was fermented with salt and vinegar or with heat and water. Red peppers kept vegetables from becoming rancid and methods of preservation became more diverse. The addition of these peppers gave kimchee its bold, spicy flavor and distinct red color. Fermented fish and fish paste are also an essential ingredient added during fermentation. Shrimp or anchovy pastes are usually used, but hairtail, squid, and pollack may be found in some recipes.

Kimchang is the event where large amounts of kimchee are made for the long winter. The kimchee is prepared and stored in earthenware jars called hangari. Traditionally, the jars were wrapped in straw and buried underground to avoid a fluctuation in temperature, which causes the kimchee's flavor to deteriorate. The length of time the ingredients ferment varies, but it is generally thought that the longer the fermentation process is, the deeper the flavor of the kimchee. It used to be that each region and each individual home developed its own recipes; today, however, most Koreans buy high-quality kimchee from the store.

Traditional whole cabbage kimchee, or "T'ong Paech'u Kimchee," is prepared by stuffing whole cabbages with a combination of powdered red pepper, red chili, garlic, ginger, scallions and fermented fish paste, plus an assortment of vegetables such as, radishes, carrots, mustard leaves, watercress, and seaweed. The kimchee ferments in a cool place for 3-4 weeks.

The varieties of kimchee differ regionally due to climate and tradition. In the north where it is colder, kimchee is lightly seasoned and is juicier, with a mild taste. In the warmer south, where fermentation is faster, more salt and hotter spices are used to give the kimchee a deep taste and to make it keep longer. The most popular kimchee in Korea is paech'u kimchi made with cabbage. Also common are oi (cucumber) and mu (daikon) kimchees.

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Copyright NYFM 2003, Dana Terebelski and Nancy Ralph.