The world of Japanese pickling and fermenting is so expansive and complex. I dabble in a lot of different things ferment-wise and have barely scratched the surface of Japan’s rich offerings in this regard. But rather than become overwhelmed and possibly give up before even starting, hopefully you will see from this recipe that many methods of Japanese pickling are accessible for a first-timer with no background experience, and will still offer excellent results.
There’s even methods easier than this one, with no cooking involved, but I believe the technique shown here will give a little more punch to your pickles that will make it worth the bit of extra time and effort.
These pickles will look and taste different than what you normally consider a “pickle,” especially one made from cucumbers. But they’re also super delicious and well worth it. They will have that umami (salty, savory, meaty) flavor associated with soy sauce, but also a little acidity, sweetness, astringency, and even spiciness if you include the hot pepper(s). This makes these pickles great as a snack on their own or with rice, as a palate cleanser, or used like other pickles, meaning used as part of a meal, like on burgers.
The texture will be a bit different too, they are a bit flimsy on the outside compared to vinegar and brined pickles. But don’t worry, despite the cooking process and their appearance, if you start with nice, firm cucumbers, you’ll see they still have a strong crunch and an experience all their own.
So let’s get started!
A note on the cucumber variety: Persian (or English or Turkish) cucumbers have a similar taste and texture to their Japanese cousins, and are much more common to find in the US, thus their use in this recipe. But authentic Japanese cucumbers will of course be great to use if you can get your hands on some!
You will need:
- Medium saucepan & stirring spoon
- Large mixing bowl
- Knife & cutting board
- Measuring cups & spoons
- Quart mason jar
- Suggested: canning funnel
- 8-10 Persian cucumbers (or equivalent of 1.25 lbs. Japanese, Turkish, or English cucumbers), sliced about 1/2″
- 2 tsp salt
- 1.25 cups soy sauce
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 TBSP rice vinegar
- 2 fingers ginger (~30g), thinly sliced
- Optional: 1 thin-sliced cayenne or Thai chili pepper
- Optional: garnish with sesame seeds when serving
1.) Give the cucumbers an icewater bath anywhere from 60 minutes to overnight in the fridge (this helps firm up and hydrate the cucumbers).
2.) Drain and dry the cucumbers, then cut. Cover with the 2 tsp salt and then mix evenly. Allow to sit for 30-60 minutes (can be returned to fridge).
3.) Transfer the cucumbers to a colander to drain, then rinse thoroughly. Allow to sit in the colander and drain out for another 15 minutes (give some shakes to help it along).
4.) Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients in the saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved. then add the sliced cucumbers.
5.) Reduce to medium-low heat (reduce to low if a rapid boil begins). Gently stirring periodically, keep cucumbers simmering for five minutes.
6.) Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature. Then, (with the suggested canning funnel) transfer to the quart mason jar and refrigerate. Wait overnight or ideally 24 hours for the flavors to meld, then they’re ready to serve!
A batch garnished with sesame seeds:
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