Some things you do for money and some things you do for love, love, love.
-The Mountain Goats
Takuan pickles are sun-dried daikon pickled in a bed of rice bran and salt. We are intrigued by Japanese pickling traditions in part because of how they employ unique mediums such as rice bran, miso, and sake lees. This tradition utilizes “waste” materials from rice milling to impart both impressive nutritional value and unmatched concentrated taste to these pickles.
This pickle is named after Takuan Soho (1573-1645), a Zen priest who was exiled from the priesthood for rejecting the formal approach of Zen discipline in favor of the reflection of true spiritual insight. He is author of the book The Unfettered Mind: Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master. During his lifetime, rice milling gained increasing popularity in Japan, hence the abundance of the nutritious bran. Takuan Soho encouraged the proliferation of rice bran pickled daikon throughout the country, and indeed it is still enjoyed in Japanese cuisine today. The bran is rinsed off, and the takuan are sliced very thinly, most commonly eaten very simply with rice. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find traditionally produced takuan, as modern varieties utilize artificial color, sweeteners, and stabilizers.
We love making Takuan at The Shop. The daikon we use has been selected for its uniform size and is delivered with the greens still attached. We begin by hanging the daikon to dry in the windows. They are such great Shop decoration. In the mornings with the dappled light pouring through the foliage covering the large windows that comprise the eastern wall, The Shop feels festive and magical. We dry the daikon for about 8 days, until they become soft and pliable. This drying will provide the pickle with a wonderful chewy texture and keep moisture from flooding the rice bran. We create a mixture of rice bran, turmeric, chili flake, kombu salt and sugar. We remove the greens and spiral the daikon into a crock, layering in the dry rice bran mix. The crock is weighted with a bag of small clean pebbles. Pebbles are used because we can easily fit them into odd shaped vessels and the weight can be quickly adjusted.
We allow the daikon to ferment for anywhere between 4 and 10 months. We have always considered takuan to be one of the more challenging pickles to make. This is due primarily to the duration of fermentation and with the drying process. If there is too much moisture in the daikon it provides conditions optimal for lactic acid creating bacteria. It is quite easy for the ferment to pick up a distinct lactic tang. This is to be expected to some extent. Lactobacillus is ubiquitous, especially in our Shop. What we want to dominate, however, is the smokey yeasty quality that fermented rice bran brings to the palate. So we check on them often hoping to catch the moment.
There hasn't been too much of a market for these more obscure pickles. We have continued to make them for the love and learning. But recently, as people become more aware of what we do, we have seen an increased interest. The last batch we made took eight months to ferment and yielded thirteen jars. They were all sold in within two weeks. We will be making more.
We change the way we do the Taukuan a little each batch. Here is one of our recipes:
4.5 kg daikon, air dried for 5-10 days until soft and pliable
1.5 kg rice bran
95 grams salt
95 grams sugar
13 grams turmeric
1 strip of kombu cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Combine the bran, salt, sugar, turmeric and kombu. Spiral the daikon into a 5 gallon crock and layer between one inch of the rice bran mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and/or a piece of clean cheese cloth. Press with 3-5 lbs of weight.
Try the pickles every two months and observe how they change over time. They are different and delicious.