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, takuan 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, 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 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, takuan 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 takuan, 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 takuan 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 tasty as get out. 🙂
Battle on – the Generalissimo