Japanese rice bran pickles Nukazuke has been one of the most interesting food I’ve been working on this year. This post is about how I started making them and a story behind it.
What is Nukazuke?
Nuka is rice bran.
Nukazuke is rice bran pickles.
Nukadoko is fermented rice bran pickling bed.
Sudden craving for nukazuke…
For me, nukazuke used to be “grandma’s stuff” because my grandmother used to make really good nukazuke pickles. As a child, I didn’t know what defines oishii nukazuke but everyone said her nukazuke is amazing and I liked her cucumber nukazuke. She stopped making it sometime ago but it wasn’t a big deal for me. Earlier this year, however, I was suddenly craving for nukazuke. The memory of the taste and the crunchiness of her nukazuke came back and I wanted to eat them so bad! Maybe because of my age??
Starting with an easy instant nukazuke set
Soon I went to a shop and got a small instant nukazuke set. It came in a zip lock type of plastic bag where you put a small amount of nuka that came in a separate packet. You put vegetables in it, massage it a little, and put it in the fridge overnight. Surprisingly, the instant nukadoko bed made pretty good nukazuke and the more I used, the taste got better.
I decided to make use of the instant nukadoko by adding more dried nuka mix in it. Nuka mix is sold in super market and it’s very cheap. With dried rice bran, it has some kombu dashi (kelp stock) powder, chili peppers and other stuff in it so you just need to add some water and salt. The hybrid nukadoko turned out nice and I was excited!
What would my grandmas say…?
When my grandmas came over to my parents’ house, I brought some of my nukazuke to let them try. I was pretty confident then but they only said “oishii” in “it’s ok” tone and the grandma who used to make the amazing nukazuke said there’s strange sweetness to it. I told them I used ready-made nukadoko and they were like “I knew it!” But still, they liked the fact I was trying to work on a traditional food like nukazuke.
That day, when I saw my grandmas being kind of happy about what I was doing, I decided to make my own nukadoko from scratch. I looked up the recipes online and asked my grandma what she would put in her nukadoko. I decided to stick to the simplest recipe.
Now, serious nukazuke with serious ingredients
For my very first nukadoko, I used fresh rice bran (not the dried ones sold in the super market), some salt from Borneo (I got from a friend I knew from Brunei), Japanese kombu (kelp), chilies, and water only. I heard most people get a small batch of old nuka from their grandma or neighbor, which already contains probiotics, and add it in the fresh nukadoko to make the taste better and to encourage faster fermentation. Unfortunately, since there weren’t anyone around me who had nukadoko, I started everything fresh.
To get the fresh rice bran, I chose to go to a rice shop in a department store. I thought they have good quality rice bran because they sell high quality, expensive rice. Luckily, I was able to get some fresh rice bran left in the rice mill. I bought about 800g for 100-200 yen. I tasted it and it was sweet like kinako (roasted soybean flour).
For the first week, I had to mix the nukadoko to aerate it and put different starter vegetables everyday to let the fermentation begin in the bed. Those starter vegetables are not meant to be eaten, so I used some ends of carrots and other left over veggies. After a week, and another week, the taste of nukazuke made in my nukadoko changed slowly, to more complex and flavorful. By this time, I had learned why my grandmas weren’t that excited about the nukazuke made in the instant nukadoko. They tasted good but they lacked the unique aroma of nuka.
My nukadoko bed
Now, my nukadoko bed is about 3 months old and it’s been changing and getting better for sure. I keep my nukadoko container in the fridge, this is a modern way of maintaining it. The fermentation is slower this way but I do so because I don’t eat them everyday and I don’t want to worry about forgetting to mix it everyday. If you keep it in a room temperature like the traditional way, nukadoko must be mixed by hand and aerated everyday to avoid mold. By keeping it in the fridge, I don’t need to aerate it everyday, I sometimes just leave it for few days and they are still alive and mold-free.
Some people have nukadoko passed down for generations that are decades and century-old. I don’t know how long I will be able to maintain mine but it’s been fun so far and most of all, I like eating them. There’s nothing like eating your own nukazuke with freshly cooked Japanese rice in a pot!
My grandma who made the great nukazuke hasn’t tasted this one yet. The day I went to buy the rice bran to the department store, she was admitted to a hospital. She said seeing me making nukazuke made her want to start hers again but we are not sure if she will be able to. But I am so glad I started mine that day, I feel like I am doing a job for her. Once she is out of the hospital and is able to eat anything other than the hospital food, I will ask her to try my nukazuke and hear her opinions. She will be the best critic for me.