How to Make Nukazuke: Nukadoko (Nuka Bed) ぬか床の作り方
We have some favorite shops in Kyoto for nukazuke tsukemono pickles but really wanted to be able to make our own at home. Traditionally every household in Japan made their own pickles, still many do. Nukazuke is quick and easy to make once you have a pickling pot full of fermenting ‘nukadoko‘ pickling bed. Just add some seasonal vegetables to the wet, salted rice bran powder and in a few days you will have some tasty, healthy pickles. Of course, it is fun too. With the passing of months and years your nukadoko will develop its own unique character and taste.
Nuzazuke is one of the Japanese culinary traditions that I would especially like to see adopted and spread abroad. It doesn’t taste particularly ‘Japanese’ or exotic, its just fresh, pungent veggies.
How to Make Nukadoko (Pickling Bed)
Nukazuke is quite simple to make provided that you can obtain the nuka (rice bran powder), which is a byproduct of milling brown rice into white rice. Other grain bran has been found to work abroad but we haven’t tried it. As Japanese style short grain white rice and brown rice is widely available, even cultivated abroad, you ought to be able to get a hold of nuka. In Japan you can get it free from rice shops.
Nuka Rice Bran Powder
We just got ours for free from our favorite liquor and rice shop, Kunitaya.
Nuka is mixed with salt and water and allowed to ferment. Bread and/or beer can be added to help the ferment. In Japan you can buy packaged pre-fermented nukadoko, but of course foodies make their own from scratch! You can also obtain a bit of ‘starter’ from a friend or tsukemono shop.
Flavoring agents such as whole chili peppers, ginger, dried shiitake mushrooms, kombu, egg shells, shaved fish and so on can be added to the mix.
The nukadoko must be mixed and turned by hand once or twice a day to prevent spoiling. Once in the winter, twice in the summer is the usual rule. The more mixing the better.
Vegetables are buried in the nukadoko for several days to a week, depending on the vegetable and the temperature.
The salt and ferment of the nukadoko transforms the vegetables into a healthy, pungent pickle.
- 2 kg of lightly roasted nuka
- 400g of salt
- 2L of water
- 1 slice of bread
- dried kelp (kombu)
Preparation of Nukadoko (Pickling Bed)
Nuka: Roast the nuka in a large clean pan over moderate heat and mix well as it roasts to avoid burning. Of course, DO NOT use cooking oil. Allow to cool to room temperature.
In Japan they say that you are trying to get it hot enough to kill the ‘bad’ bacteria that will cause spoilage but not hot enough to kill the ‘good’ bacteria that will produce tasty pickles. Some report the proper temperature is 70 C, this is the temperature that nuka will start to change color ‘a bit’. Getting a fry pan or wok full of powder to a uniform and exact temperature seems quite impossible to me. I roasted ours in two batches until I could smell the nuka and the color darkened. See photo. Miwa was sure that I roasted it too much (and ruined it), but it seems to be fermenting well.
Keep in mind that you will need to add nuka powder from time to time to your nukadoko to replenish it, as a small portion is lost to mixing and removing vegetables. So, keep some on hand.
Roasting Nuka Rice Bran: Before
Roasting Nuka Rice Bran: After
The darker brown nuka is from the bottom of the pan.
Nuka Rice Bran
Water: Boil clean, fresh water and add salt. Once dissolved, remove from heat and add chopped bread. Allow the bread to soften and mash by hand when sufficiently cool. Allow to return to room temperature.
Mix: Add the roasted nuka to your pickle pot. Gently pour or ladle in water mixture while mixing and squeezing with your free hand. Mix and stir by hand for several minutes. The nukadoko should feel like wet sand when done.
Bread for Nukadoko
Soaking Bread for Nukadoko (Boiled Salt Water)
Mashing the Bread for Nukadoko
Adding Bread Mush and Salt Water to Roasted Nuka
Mixing in Bread Mush and Salt Water in Roasted Nuka
Mixing in Bread Mush and Salt Water in Roasted Nuka
Mixing Nuka, Adding Kombu
Pressing Down the Nuka
Pickle Pot: The pickle pot can be wood, ceramic, metal, glass, plastic, etc. Traditionally pots were wood or ceramic. We are using an enameled metal pot. You just want something that isn’t going to rust. Plastic is very commonly used in Japan now.
Fermentation: Depending on the season and temperature fermentation will take 1 to 3 weeks. Using a seed starter will of course take less time. Adding beer will help speed fermenting.
The nukadoko needs to be mixed by hand once or twice a day, be sure that your hands are clean and free of lotions, creams and so on. If nukadoko is not mixed sufficiently, it will spoil.
We started our nukadoko without seed starter in February in our cold Kyoto machiya townhouse and ours wouldn’t ferment well, so I rigged-up a hot water bottle and old blankets to keep ours warm for several days, then it started to ferment nicely. I would imagine that in most houses in Western countries, even in the winter, this would not be an issue.
We will keep you posted on our progress. Making nukazuke seems like great fun and I think that this is another Japanese cuisine that could be widely adopted abroad.