Japanese Rice Bran Pickles
"When life hands you nuka, zuke it. Okay, doko?"
Our beloved and fearless editor, David D. Wronski writes . . .
As an enthusiatic home cook I am always on the lookout for something new. The world is my oyster, don't you know. But, I am not the sort of foodie looking for the unusual in unusual places. Our good friend Baron Ambrosia is our patron saint in that category; and then there's that Andrew Zimmern guy too. No, I am after what is usual in the unusual. (If you are feeling confused by that construction, stop and take deep slow breaths.) The usual in the unusual are those foods and recipes that are everyday to the various world cuisines, but still new and unfamiliar to us here in the good old US of A.
Case in point. We are very fortunate to live near the magnificent Mitsuwa (NJ branch), a showplace of a supermarket catering to Japanese cooks. It is immaculately clean, well lit, not a trace of that dried fishy who-knows-what-else aroma that wafts through too many Asian markets. Near the fresh fish display it smells of the sea. Fresh!
The produce section there looks like a jewelry store. Sufficient quantities — not excessive mountains — of all sorts of usual and traditional Japanese foodstuffs. A huge variety of fresh mushrooms. You want the miso. What kind? Dozens of brands/types. Fresh wasabi. Packaged items have mostly Japanese language labelling, and I would say that easily half of what's on the shelves I have no idea what it is or what it's for. Baron Ambrosia, go nuts.
This is not about Mitsuwa per se, so go there and feast your virtual eyes. Oh yes, a good thirty percent of the huge space is devoted to a food court serving only well made and tasty traditional Japanese foods. Seating is on par with a very decent sit down restaurant. Huge windows at the New Jersey store eating area, overlooking the Hudson River with the Riverside Baptist Church right there on the New York side.
Well, almost only Japanese cuisine. For some reason Italian pasta with tomato sauce is a fave. The food vendor's name is Italian Tomato. Inscrutable to us.
And, there are a lot of other shops under the main roof and close by the main building. Auto Freak for one is a must see. Not to forget the sweet shops with very fancy, painstakingly crafted delicacies packaged like jewels; prices to match.
Lastly, at various times throughout the year there are special events and festivals. One of memory, demonstrations of competitive mochi pounding (see below)*.
Alright, Pickles 102 . . .
Don't be alarmed at what follows, it is not yet another digression. Well, it is. But, a necessary one.
On a recent trip there to restock our sushi supplies, just in from the main entrance to Mitsuwa we stopped at a display of beautifully labelled sturdy plastic bags of rice. There were bags of brown rice and white, with others of varying shades in between brown and white. Now in our world there's brown rice and white rice. Yes, of course, long to short grain; Arborio/Carnaroli (risotto), Basmati, Bomba (paella), Thai Jasmine, sticky rice, sushi rice, Bhutanese red rice, and the so many kinds of wild rice. If we missed something, go ahead and be a wise guy and bring it to our attention in the comments. But, if you really want to look into rice, dig the The Rice Book.
So, all of a sudden we discover that there is a range of brown you can have on your rice. Who knew? Perhaps we'll leave it to her nibs, Ms. Martha, to parse those distinctions; and That Bittman to let us in on the variant recipes and permutations, etcetera.
Directly next to this Pantone color chart of a rice display is a refrigerator size vending machine. Think the Japanese equivalent of the A&P in store coffee grinder. It turns out that the gizmo will take your brown rice and mill it to whatever level of not-so-brown you prefer. The deal is that as a result of all that milling, you get rice bran as a byproduct; say nuka in Japanese.
And . . . nuka is a basis for nukazuke, the traditional Japanese fermented style pickle. The display also had the rice bran for sale with a short description of how to prepare it as a fermenting bed — say nuka doko — for pickles. We took some home. Usual in the unusual, get it? We don't need to recreate the recipe, here's a good one from which we've started our own nuka doko.
As this is a first time venture for us, we recognize the fear and trepidation that comes with venturing into new territory. If you should go there too, just keep in mind all those mouth watering tasty pickles. As they say, "keep your eye on the donut and not the hole."
If you get into the nuka doko recipe above you will see that an important procedure is to mix the paste with your hands. Now, we along with Cooky Cat are very fussy about making sure that we keep direct handling of any food to the very minimum. Don't even get us started about all that finger fussing that seems to go in so called high end joints in the process of the fussyfying in the plating of prepared foods. Ugh. Employees must wash hands before leaving the loo. Right? Even so, ugh!
Anyhow, it seems the microbes contributed by direct hand contact in mixing are important to the development of a good ferment in the pickling base. But, as Cooky Cat would certainly say, wash those hands first. And, not just in the loo. In the kitchen, just before digging in.
* Pounding Mochi. (Don't try this at home.)