Eggplant has proven itself a challenging vegetable for us to pickle. We have been disappointed with the color as it often turns a corpse like blue-grey, and with the texture, which has been either styrofoam or mush. However it had been a number of years since our last attempt and I really wanted to add a new pickle to the tsukemono line. I had my eye set on shibazuke.
Shibazuke is a traditional lacto ferment of eggplant, shiso, & ginger. The pickle is said to have originated in Kyoto, Japan with some recipes calling for the addition of cucumber and myoga (the new shoots of a ginger relative). While looking for recipes I had trouble finding one that was fermented, most calling for acidification by means of rice vinegar or umezu (the brine from umeboshi). I reached out to Naoko Moore, a culinary educator in Los Angeles, who has the informative website naokomoore.com and is co-authoring, along with Kyle Connaughton, an up and coming book on Donabe (claypot) Cookery. Naoko sent me a very authentic and basic recipe for Shibazuke.
The technique is a bit of a departure for us. Usually we will cut or shred our vegetables, salt them at about 2%, let them sweat for the day, and pack them into the vessel, the brine covering the top, allowing them to ferment for an average of six weeks or so. In this case we layered the eggplant, shiso, and ginger- salted at 5%- and allowed the brine to develop in the vessel under weight. We fermented the pickle for only 2 weeks.
The resulting pickle was truly wonderful. Salt forward, the eggplant had great texture with a acute ginger bite. But this pickle is really all about the shiso, it's herbal pepperiness weaves itself throughout, and that color. That Color!!
Soon after leaving the fermenting vessel the shibazuke was jarred up and left the Shop, headed for Chicago, where it sat next to donabe smoked salmon in a dish created by Chef Kyle Connaughton for this years Imbibe and Inspire conference.
The eggplant texture reminded me of the flesh of the Royal Trumpet mushroom, which I was scheduled to receive a few pounds of the following week. I was eager to apply the technique to the fungus.
If possible I enjoyed this pickle even more. The subtle earthiness of the mushroom was still present and the texture has reminded many who have tried it of tender squid or octopus. Delightful!