Hakusaizuke – Napa Cabbage Pickle

From Ayako Iino - Berkeley CSA Member Hakusai or Napa Cabbage is one of the most popular Japanese winter vegetables. When gently cooked with fish or meat, Hakusai sucks up the flavor and creates gentle, soothing simmered dishes. When I was a student I had a favorite super easy dish of tuna and Hakusai: Cut the cabbage up, put it in a pot, open a can of tuna, pour the tuna (juice and everything) over the cabbage, put the lid on and simmer until it gets soft. Finally add a splash of soy sauce or a sprinkle of salt. Napa Cabbage is also good as salad. You can make a slaw with your own original seasoning combination. But without doubt, the star recipe for big, fat, dense and heavy Hakusai, only available in the height of winter, is Hakusaizuke = the pickle. Traditionally this involves rows of cabbage wedges washed and bathed in the sun, a big cedar barrel, a wooden dropping lid and a heavy big stone. But I've created the following smaller batch method for city dwellers. It should be matured in the refrigerator for 2 to 8 weeks. You'll be surprised with its deep flavor. For a quicker version, you can also cut the cabbages up, toss with salt and flavoring, top with a weight and let it sit for several hours.

One whole Napa Cabbage

Kosher salt (about 2.5% of cabbage in weight)

6 to 8 whole red chili peppers

Dried persimmon

a 5-inch square piece konbu seaweed (optional)

a yuzu, lemon, or orange (optional)


Things you will need:
a bucket or pasta pot that holds 2 to 3 gallons a plate a little smaller than the pot in diameter a weight about twice as heavy as the cabbage (i.e. a big stone, a water-filled glass jar, etc.) a scale (or you could guess on the amount of salt) glass jars to let the pickle mature

1. Weigh the whole cabbage. Weigh the salt = 2.5% of the cabbage.

2. Peel off and save the outer greenish leaves of the cabbage. Stand the cabbage with the bottom side up. Run a knife through the center about one quarter of the way down and then tear the halves apart. This is to save the smaller inner leaves from being cut and lost. Repeat until you get 8 wedges.

3. Rinse the leaves and wedges. Drain in a colander.

4. Start pickling. Sprinkle a small amount of salt into the bottom of the pickling container. Take a wedge of the cabbage and sprinkle it with salt. Try to let the salt go between the leaves. Lay in the pasta pot, cut side up.

5. Repeat with all the wedges, making neat layers.

6. Layer the outer leaves, that you had set aside, so they cover the surface, sprinkle salt and layer more leaves. Push down using your hands and your whole body weight.

7. Place the plate on top of the cabbage then put the weight on the plate. Leave in a cold place (doesn't have to be refrigerated) till the cabbage releases its liquid and it comes up above the cabbage. This takes a day or two.

8. When the cabbage is ready, cut the konbu into 4 long strips using scissors. Slice the yuzu thinly or if using lemon or orange, use the peel. Have the whole chili and dried persimmon ready.

9. Take the weight off the pickle. Take out the outer leaves and set aside. Transfer the cabbage wedges into the glass jars, packing tightly, inserting the chili, konbu, dried persimmon rind/slices, and yuzu slices/citrus rind here and there.

10. Cover the top with some of the outer leaves. Pour in the pickling liquid. Make sure there are no air pockets.

11. Fill the jars with the pickling liquid up to the top and screw the lid tight. You may have some liquid overflow, but that's good.

12. Keep refrigerated to mature for 2 to 8 weeks.

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