Tsukemono- preserved vegetables- pop up nearly every time food is consumed in Japan but can easily go unnoticed; they’re served with sushi to cleanse the palate in between flavours, as a snack with beers after a long day at work, used to top a bowl of rice and garnish dishes or as a course all of their own in a traditional kaiseki meal. These pickles help bring balance and harmony to a meal, they awaken the senses and excite the mouth preventing flavour fatigue and they add textures and colours that are otherwise missing from the foods that they accompany; samurai even used them for a quick energy boost during battle- and that alone is a good enough endorsement for me.
Unlike most Western pickles, those of Japan don’t rely purely on salt or vinegar to take care of the preservation of the main ingredient- tsukemono can be made with leftover lees from brewing sake, rice bran, mustard, soy sauce or as in this recipe, miso. These misozuke pickles are perhaps the most intensely savoury of all the tsukemono, garlic cloves are buried in a finger-licking mixture of miso, sake and mirin before being left for months to slowly transform. The miso helps temper the fiery flavour of the garlic which in turn mellows out the saltiness of the miso, resulting in two beautifully balanced condiments; a crunchy, umami-rich pickled garlic that’s a perfect accompaniment to meat or fish dishes, and a garlic enhanced nerimiso that’s just crying out to be stirred into a soup, spooned over hot steamed vegetables or smeared onto a crispy, lightly singed yaki onigiri. Oishii!
- 150g yellow miso paste
- 25ml sake
- 45ml mirin
- 3 bulbs garlic
- Break up the bulbs of garlic, peel the individual cloves and cut off the root ends, then parboil in a pan of boiling water for two minutes. Cut each clove in half lengthwise and place on a wire rack to dry out slightly for six hours, or overnight (if you have a dehydrator, you can dehydrate the halved cloves for around two hours)- this step helps to concentrate the garlic’s flavour and reduce the amount of moisture in the finished pickle.
- Mix the miso, sake and mirin in a small saucepan until smooth then cook over a low heat for two to three minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly and turns glossy.
- Remove the pan from the heat and start to pack the hot miso into a sterilised glass jar- spread a thick layer in the bottom of the jar, then embed the halved garlic cloves into the paste, adding more miso and garlic in layers until you have filled the jar. Put the lid on the jar and leave to cool.
- When the jar has cooled completely, store it in the refrigerator for at least three months before using; the longer you leave the garlic to pickle, the more rounded the flavours will be.
The ninniku misozuke is best served in thin slices so as not to be too overpowering; after you have used up all of the pieces of garlic, the remaining nerimiso is an excellent ingredient to use in place of regular miso in most recipes, and is especially good when used with pork. To make these pickles even more special, you could use your own homemade miso by following our recipe here.