Citizens, there can be zero doubt in your collective consciousness that the Potentate of Pickling – the all-Father of Fermentation who ALONE is TFD! – has an unmatched appetite for all things related to this humble side dish, and perhaps none more so than the deliciously amber-hued Japanese tsukemono (pickle) universally beloved as takuan!
In addition to being served alongside other types of tsukemono in traditional Japanese cuisine, this delicious pickle is also enjoyed at the end of meals as it is thought to aid digestion.
Takuan is typically served up in Japanese restaurants as a side to sushi, and there it is almost invariably stained a hideously preternatural shade of neon yellow with artificial colors, overly sweetened with sugar and a sad shadow of its true glory.
While it is still possible to find genuine artisinal takuan, it is as rare as hen’s teeth and growing more rare by the day. Artisinal takuan is a very pale yellow to ivory white color – that’s how you know you’re getting the real deal!
As a loyal disciple (教え子) of true authentic Japanese cuisine, I shall share my hard-won knowledge with you on how to make a true takuan!
It is shorn of modern-day shortcuts and chemicals and made the way of its ancestors, over several hundred years since its invention in the early 17th century by one of the most acclaimed Zen monks in Japanese history.
As noted on zenstoriesofthesamurai.com:
Takuan Soho was born in 1573. His parents were farmers living in the town of Izushi, located in what was then Tajima province (now part of Hyogo Prefecture).
Young Takuan began his religious studies by the time he was eight years old. By the time he was ten years old, he had entered a monastery. At the age of fourteen, Takaun was studying Zen with the master Shun’oku Soen, a Rinzai-sect Zen master at Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto.
Evidently, Takuan’s character and mastery of Zen impressed his fellow monks. At the unprecedented age of 36, Takuan was made abbot of the Daitokuji temple.
His tenure as Daitokuji abbot was short. Soon after his appointment, Takuan left the temple and begin a long period of traveling. During his journeys, he raised funds for the renovation of Daitokuji and other Zen temples.
Takuan was apparently unaffected by his fame and popularity. Known for his acerbic wit and strength of character, Takuan was able to apply Zen principals <TFD NOTE: this should be principles> to many activities.
He was an accomplished gardener, painter, calligrapher, tea master, poet (over 100 published poems), and author (six volumes of collected works). He is also credited with inventing the yellow pickled radish called a takuan in his honor.
His writings to fencing master, Lord Yagyu Munenori, are commonly studied by contemporary martial artists.
In 1629, Takuan was banished to northern Japan by the Hidetada Tokugawa shogunate because he protested their interference in temple matters involving ecclesiastical appointments.
Three years later, there was a general amnesty after the death of Hidetada Tokugawa and Takuan’s banishment ended. Later, he was invited by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604–51) to become the first abbot of Tokaiji Temple in Edo, which was constructed especially for the Tokugawa family.
Takuan died in Edo (present day Tokyo) in December of 1645. At the moment before his death, Takuan painted the Chinese character for dream, laid down his brush and died.
Quite the amazing man indeed – we shall not sully his legacy by doing anything less than the traditional method for making takuan!
Making takuan the traditional way will involve you in the Zen process – you can’t just ‘make them’ – you need to prepare far in advance but you will be left with the ability to make takuan pickles at any time you want thereafter.
Usually, it is washed with water to remove excess brine and then sliced thinly before serving. It is eaten as a side dish during meals, and eaten as a snack at teatime.
Strip-cut takuan is often used for Japanese bento. Traditional takuan—using daikon radish that has been sun-dried and then pickled in a rice bran bed—is sometimes stir-fried or braised when getting older and sour.
Some sushi rolls use strip-cut takuan for ingredients, e.g. shinkomaki (takuan only) and torotaku-maki (maguro [fatty tuna] and takuan).
In the traditional process of making this pickle, the first step is to hang a daikon radish in the sun for a few weeks by the leaves until it becomes dehydrated and flexible.
Next, the daikon is placed in a pickling crock and covered with a mixture of salt, rice bran, optionally sugar, daikon greens, kombu, and perhaps chilli pepper and/or dried persimmon peels.
A weight is then placed on top of the crock, and the daikon is allowed to pickle for several months. The finished product is usually yellow in color and quite pungent.
Most mass-produced takuan uses salt or syrup to reduce the dehydration time and artificial color to enhance the appearance. They can be decent, but I far prefer homemade – and soon, you will too!
You’re going to need some specialist ingredients and cookware to make takuan properly.
First, you want to get your hands on the famed Okinawan ‘black’ (actually dark brown) sugar – you can buy it here.
Next, you’ll want some proper coarse pickling salt – I like this one. Rice bran is an integral part of the nukazuke (rice bran pickle) style of daikon making – you can buy some here. You’ll also need some dried wild kombu seaweed – my preferred easily-available brand is here.
Get a very big pickling container for this recipe, as the daikon you add will take up room, and you need to mix the pickle thoroughly every day, which is easier if it isn’t about to spill out of the container.
Heavy plastic is OK, but an enamel or glazed pottery (scalded with boiling water) pickling crock is even better – this is my go-to.
I am greatly indebted to the giants whose shoulders I stand on for creating this recipe – first, I strongly recommend you read this fantastic article on the basics and benefits of rice bran pickling – it can be found here.
Second, I wish to acknowledge the mysterious but oh-so-amazing HelenJP from egullet.org, whose recipe served as the basis of my own.
Citizens, this is not a difficult recipe, but it is time-consuming – that said, once you have tasted the true glory of a REAL takuan, you will never go back to the lurid yellow factory product again, I promise!
Needless to say, these pickles are rich in natural probiotics and are exceptionally good for you in addition to being beyond delicious. 🙂
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
- 5 kg very fresh daikon radish with leaves
- 240 g coarse pickling salt (it should be a total of 6% of the daikon weight – please note this is very low, so the pickle won’t keep more than 2 months, 3 at the outside. You can safely increase to 10% for longer storage.)
- ½ kg raw rice bran (roughly 7½% by weight of the semi-dried daikon)
- 75 ml by volume coarse brown Japanese sugar
- 20 cm dried kombu (kelp) cut into 5-6 pieces
- 5–7 dried chilis de arbol, stemmed but left whole
- Semi-dried peel from 1 large apple or persimmon
- Scrub but don’t peel the daikon. Tie daikon in pairs with twine, hang over a pole or line out of the rain (in a nice breezy spot – plenty of sunshine is fine, and is in fact desirable).
- Dry for 2-3 days in early winter weather in Japan – until you can easily bend a daikon into a ‘U’ shape. Cut leaves off in one piece very close to top of daikon (save them!) roll daikon back and forth on a tabletop until pliable all over.
- Mix all pickling ingredients (except daikon and leaves) together and reserve – be sure and wear rubber gloves from this point forward so you don’t contaminate the mixture.
- Lay a good layer of the nuka mixture down on the bottom of your pickling container of choice, then add a layer of daikon, bending them round and round, end to end, in a spiral to fit the container. Fill in any empty space with the leaves.
- Add more nuka mixture, patting down firmly, then keep on layering daikon and nuka and filling in spaces with leaves, ending with a nuka layer.
- Put a layer of paper or wrap down, then a board or plate, and a weight at least twice the weight of the daikon you are pickling. Cover all with several sheets of newspaper, tying or taping to the container. If you’re using an actual pickling crock with a water seal, the newspaper is unnecessary.
- Leave in a cool, dry place for 2-3 weeks. Outside is fine if it is shady and cool.
- When water exuded by the daikon reaches the level of the board or plate, reduce weights by half. Leave for another week or two before sampling, probably at its best 1-2 months after pickling. Leave the takuan in the nuka container – remove individual portions as you eat them, but do not replace them back in the container after you’ve removed them. As the takuan remains longer and longer in the pickling mixture, it will get stronger.
- Once you have identified the stage of pickling where you enjoy them most, remove them all and store wrapped in the fridge. Save the nuka for the next pickling batch – if you are running low, whip up a fresh batch and combine with the old.
- If you spot faint signs of mold after the takuan is ready to eat, remove from the pickling bed, scrape off most of the nuka, and pop into the fridge.
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