Tsukemono – Shoyuzuke Eggs and Misozuke Eggs

Kirsten K Shockey

October 10, 2022
Tsukemono is one such tradition from Japan. The Japanese pickling methods are particularly artful and delicious.

Before there was refrigeration, traditional forms of curing, fermentation, drying, and aging—in short, preservation—allowed foodstuffs to last through a period of time without spoiling. This time could be hours, days, weeks, seasons, or years. Fermentation added time protection with the bonus of added deliciousness and often nutritional benefits. This is true throughout the world fermentation traditions. Tsukemono is one such tradition from Japan. The Japanese pickling methods are particularly artful and delicious. There is a large variety of pickles that are all part of the tradition of tsukemono, pronounced tskay-mo-noh, which is a generic term for pickled things—tsuke meaning pickled, marinated or steeped depending on the translation, and mono meaning things.

They are the condiments that make a simple bowl into a feast for the senses with sophisticated tastes that emerge from process and fermentation. Intense as they are, they are meant to be consumed as small bites alongside grains and fresh vegetables, not to dominate. The many delicious variations of tsukemono are essential parts of Japanese meals. Traditionally they are not served arbitrarily but are an element incorporated in both elaborate spreads and simple homecooked meals. “Nani wanakutomo ko no mono” is a Japanese proverb that translates roughly to “there may be nothing else but as long as I have pickles.” The feeling being if there is tsukemono to eat with a humble bowl of rice the meal is still worthy. Throughout the world this is the way with fermentation, the salt, the microbes, the time all conspire to elevate a vegetable or other ingredient to something greater.
These pickled things are a much broader view of pickles than our western notion of soured cucumbers—pickles can be Napa cabbage that given a quick rub with salt and pressed for a few hours to bring out flavors and textures, not long enough for any acidification to take place. Or, as you will read much more. Tsuke become -zuke when it comes behind another word. For example, simple salted vegetables are shio-zuke means marinated in salt, or another easy but delicious tsukemono is shoyu-zuke. These are pickles made from ingredients steeped in various types of soy sauces often with mirin or sake added. Besides any vegetable tsukemono is also used for fruit, fish, tofu, eggs, seaweed and flowers. In this post you can explore shoyu-zuke with a recipe for shoyu-zuke eggs.
It is in the traditions of tsukemono that we also find the use of pickling beds. Pickling beds are a way to nurture a well-established culture that provides quick pickles by adding dimension and flavor to vegetables with very little effort and time. They also provide both long term (years) or a short-term preservation strategy. If you consider life before refrigeration the race of microorganisms who will claim any food or vegetable as soon as it is harvested it made sense to tip the scales in favor of the organisms that gave stability and flavor to the food vs. rot and mold. In an ambient temperature, the native microbes inhabiting the food, are ready to go and they are all trying to become dominant. Placing that vegetable in a pickling pot is another way to buy a little time and ensure you will be eating something delicious. Some of these pickling beds will hold that vegetable for years and others may be consumed in just a few hours.
Pickling beds are practical in other ways as well, they likely arose from finding a use from a byproduct. For example, kasu-zuke, which is a delicious medium made from sake lees, which is the mash of rice and yeast that is left when the sake is pressed. The nuka (rice bran) pot is also unique to Japanese tsukemono. This likely came about from an abundance of rice bran from polishing rice. Interestingly, eating nuka-zuke, reduced beriberi, a disease that comes from vitamin B1 deficiency, a result of widespread polished rice consumption. Another by-product from soy sauce or tamari making is mash that is left after pressing out the liquid umami rich sauce. This is called moromi. Moromi may not be available to you but you can make the same type of delicious pickle with miso.
True to its roots of using one’s local abundance and the necessity of not letting anything go to waste the techniques of tsukemono can serve as inspiration for use with your local ingredients. In doing so you are both naming and celebrating the tradition from which these type of ferments were born while engaging in what is available to you.

Shoyuzuke eggs

Shoyuzuke is one of the easiest ways to step into tsukemono. These eggs are particularly fun. Savory, umami-rich, and tender, these eggs have a lighter, tangier, saltier flavor than eggs cured in miso. You will make a jar of pickling liquid, where the eggs will gain flavor. You will need to wait at least 7 hours to eat them, but you can keep them in the refrigerated brine for up to 10 days. As a bonus, the curing liquid can be reused once.
This recipe is for a basic soy sauce brine, to which you can add many things to give your eggs some extra pizzazz. In the spring you might add scallions or garlic chives to the brine. In the summer maybe a few sprigs of lemon basil or Thai basil. A few slices of fresh ginger give earthy warmth in fall and winter. And, if you like heat, anytime is good for a dried chile pepper.

For best results and health benefits, use a naturally fermented soy sauce such as shoyu or tamari. This recipe also calls for mirin, which is a sweet sake seasoning. Makes 6 cured eggs.

Shoyuzuke egg on a blue plate and shoyuzuke eggs in a jar
(Photo by Kirsten K. Shockey)

Ingredients

  • 355 ml (1½ cups) water
  • 236 ml (1 cup) good-quality soy sauce, such as shoyu or tamari
  • 30 to 44 ml (2 to 3 tablespoons) mirin (more makes a sweeter brine)
  • 30 ml (2 tablespoons) rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • Small strip of kombu, or a few threads of sea palm (kelp)
  • A few sprigs or slices of one or two of the following: scallions, chives, garlic scapes, lemon basil, Thai basil, lemongrass, ginger, or hot chile pepper
  • 6 hard boiled eggs

Directions

1. Combine all the ingredients except the eggs in a quart jar and stir well, or cover and shake.

2. Gently lower the peeled boiled eggs into the brine. Place a small weight on top to keep the eggs fully submerged. Cover jar with a lid and place in the refrigerator and allow to cure for at least 7 hours.

Peeling a hard boiled egg
(Photo by Kirsten K. Shockey)
3. To eat, simply remove eggs from the brine when needed. The cured eggs will store in the brine for up to 10 days; if you choose to remove them from the brine for storing, keep them refrigerated in an airtight container.

Misozuke eggs

This is a simple way to try a pickling bed. If you have access to maromi, wonderful. Otherwise choose your favorite miso. The miso marinade can be reused for many subsequent batches of misozuke eggs.
The flavor of this recipe differs with the type of miso you use. A sweet white miso will render a mellow, almost sweet egg. Chickpea miso still has sweetness, but it is a little saltier and is tinged with a heartier umami. Barley miso has a heartier flavor, and the eggs will soak up its darker color, giving pretty brown edges to slices of egg white. Red miso is the most pungent of the group, imparting the most flavor and the most impressive color.
Any brand of miso will infuse delicious flavor, but for extra credit find an unpasteurized miso; its live enzymes will go to work immediately to transform the eggs’ flavor. Different brands of miso also have different textures. The miso’s texture won’t make a difference in the outcome, but it might be harder to wrap around the eggs: drier, pastier misos are easier to work with than wet ones. Makes 6 eggs.
Rice bowl with mizozuke eggs, asparaguses, cucumbers, carrots and pepprs
(Photo by Kirsten K. Shockey)

Ingredients

  • 291 – 436 g (1 to 1½ cups) miso paste
  • 6 hard boiled eggs

Directions

1. Put 2 to 3 tablespoons of miso in the palm of your hand and pat it into a pancake. Nestle a peeled boiled egg in the center and wrap the miso around it. Place the wrapped egg in a sealable storage container. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Don’t worry if your miso is moist and won’t allow you to neatly wrap it: do the best you can to cover the whole egg. Alternatively, you can locate a container that will just fit all the eggs, then place a layer of miso on the bottom, nestle the eggs into the miso, and cover the eggs with the remaining miso.
Wrapping miso around a hard boiled egg with palms
(Photo by Kirsten K. Shockey)
2. Cover the container of miso-coated eggs, place it in the refrigerator, and allow it to cure for at least 4 hours, which will produce a subtly flavored and delicious egg. For more flavor, you can allow these to marinate for 3 or 4 days. (In general, the saltier and darker the miso, the shorter the time needed to cure the eggs.)

3. When the eggs are ready, gently remove the miso with your fingers and press the used miso into a resealable container, removing any air pockets as you pack it in. Keep the miso refrigerated, and reuse it for several more batches of eggs. Store the eggs in a separate airtight container in the fridge and use within 1 week.

4. To serve, you can rinse the eggs lightly if you prefer them smooth, or leave on any remaining miso for extra flavor. Cut the eggs in half with a sharp knife, rinsing the knife after each egg to give you a clean cut every time.

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