The Privilege of Pickling
Japan has perhaps the most sophisticated array of pickling methods, and I've always wanted to try making pickles with nuka. Nuka is rice bran, or the chaff left over from milling the rice grain out of its rough husk. Nukazuke is the process of picking with nuka. Pickling with it involves creating the aforementioned nukadoko, or nuka pot. by moistening the rice bran with a salt brine, then adding various ingredients to grow the flora responsible for the unique flavors of nuka pickles. I followed Singleton Hachisu's recipe to the tee, and am on day 3 of its preparation.
To begin, I prepared a strong salt brine and let it cool, while I gently warmed the rice bran in iron pans to parch it of its moisture. I left the rice bran to cool, then added it to the biggest mixing bowl in the kitchen. The brine was poured in, and the two were mixed together to form a wet mash. Per the recipe, miso (I can't tell a lie: the recipe calls for brown rice miso and all I had was soybean miso, so I pray this isn't a grave mistake) was mixed in, pieces of konbu and some dried red chiles were added, and then some koji rice was sprinkled in, which is recommended to diversify the flora in the nuka, and eventually the flavors in the pickles. Day by day I've been adding little bits of vegetable scraps, mostly cucumber ends, along with some baby carrots that were pulled out of the garden to thin the carrot bed. Currently the mash is tasting very salty, as well as grainy, like the discarded mash from a beer brew. Each day it tastes a little different, a bit more mature, and a bit more evolved. In one week's time it's said to be ready to make the nuka pickles.
The idea behind nuka is to bury vegetables in this flavor and bacteria-rich substrate, and let them sit for between 8 and 24 hours. In that time the nuka infuses the vegetables with its flavor, and also seems to leach out some moisture from them. After 8-12 hours in the nuka, the vegetables that I've been adding are very moist, very salty, and slightly wilted. I trust that my nukadoko's flavor profile will change and morph over time.
In the beginning it seemed difficult, complex, and daunting, as the nuka needs to be turned at least once a day to keep from spoiling. After starting the nuka project, however, it seems that there are indeed complex forces at work, but in a relatively simple process. I certainly hope that I'm doing it right. It is said that a nukadoko properly tended can last and produce delicious pickles for generations.