Tsukemono / Hakusai No Shiozuke / Japanese Pickled Cabbage


Introduction: Tsukemono / Hakusai No Shiozuke / Japanese Pickled Cabbage

About: Raising and educating several children over a wide range of ages with my husband and learning along with them as a way of life.

Tsukemono (say "TSKEH-mohnoh" never "TSOOkeh-mohnoh"... just think of the "su" part as being whispered instead of spoken) means "pickled things" and includes a great variety of Japanese pickle, both fruit and vegetable types. This Instructable is about one of the most basic, called "Hakusai no Shiozuke" or "Napa Cabbage Salt Pickle".

Once you feel comfortable doing this, you can try endless variations, with seaweed, scallions, peppers, garlic, fish sauce or broth... in many ways, depending on how you dress it up, this can be very similar to Korean Kimchi.

There is no vinegar added.. like all naturally fermented pickles, the varying sourness is from natural vinegar that gets made as part of the fermentation process, so while you can simply put salt and vinegar on cabbage, not only would that be "cheating" but it would cheat you of the full flavor and priobiotic benefits to the gut and immune system, that naturally fermented original versions offer.

Once you see how simple this is, you can have it all the time, and it is good with rice, alone as a snack, added to soup after the soup is done, on sandwiches like sauerkraut, or however you like it.
This is quick to make and must also be used more quickly, than slower fermented things like kimchi. But it's easy enough that there is no need to make more than you can use in a short time.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

All you need is Napa cabbage, salt, and a knife.

Oh, and a makeshift "tsukemonoki" if, like most of us, you don't have access to a traditional Japanese pickling crock. Use any container that is big enough, and lets you weight the top down. I used a 2-quart square food-safe plastic freezer storage container, with a 1-quart one full of water as the weight. You could use a large nonreactive bowl with a plate on top weighted by a brick. Or if you have a tsukemonoki, tell me where I can get one too.

Step 2: Chop

Remove blemished leaves. I tend not to wash in water unless I have time to dry it or let it air dry. Extra water would interfere.

Chop the head of cabbage into thick slices across, about 2 to 3 cm (or around an inch to inch-and-a half) thick.

Step 3: Layer and Salt

This is a hard one because everyone salts by feel, it seems. I looked high and low and found no exact proportions of salt to cabbage except this "salt should be 2 to 3 percent of the weight of the cabbage".

That sounded like a hassle to use, so I just say, sprinkle salt rather than pouring it. Salt the bottom of your container. Lay down a layer of cabbage. Salt the top as if for seasoning any food you want salty enough to season, but not so salty as to be inedible. What type of salt has never mattered that I can tell. Whatever thrills your gorilla, be it sea salt, iodized table salt, fancy french salt; it will still make tsukemono, so it's a personal choice.

Lay down another layer, this time frilly leaves if your first layer was thick stems, or thick stems if your first layer was frilly leaves. Sprinkle again. Continue until you are out of cabbage. You can mix it by hand, or leave it layered. It really seems to make no difference, though I have heard others say it does.

Here is where I realized that my trusty glass jar wouldn't do, because the cabbage was much springier than the brined kimchi had been, so I really needed something to pack it in that had a wide enough opening to really weight the top evenly. So I transferred it to my 2 Quart plastic square freezer container.

Step 4: Weight It Down

Here I am placing a 1-quart square container that fits neatly atop my 2-quart one. I put water in it as the weight.

You won't probably see any liquid rising just yet; but in a few hours to a day, liquid will rise and that weight will keep the cabbage submerged in the resulting brine. Here's the top view also.

Step 5: Wait

Leave it on the counter up to 3 days.
It will "juice out" and the liquid will rise. It may smell a bit like rotting cabbage during this time. Hopefully you have tasted tsukemono before and know that this is normal. If you have never had tsukemono of any type, it may be hard to trust that this is how it is supposed to smell. The salt will guide it to process correctly instead of outright rotting, by encouraging the "good" bacteria that cause the lactic fermentation.

Your cabbage will take less space as the liquid rises. See how my top container, that I put on to weight it, has been sinking?

Step 6: Ready to Enjoy!

Once it has been fermenting two or three days, it is ready. Maybe sooner if it's really warm in your house... just taste it. It certainly won't hurt to eat it sooner; that is a matter of personal taste.

This is basic hakusai no shiozuke at its simplest. Feel free to add soy sauce, garlic, pepper flakes, more vinegar, a touch of sugar or mirin.... you can dress it up however you want, or serve as it is, with rice, cooked meals, in soups, on sandwiches, or as a snack by itself.

Just be sure to use it up within the week, and storing in the fridge is probably a good idea to slow further fermentation. Your nose and taste buds will dictate what its useful life is. But as I said, this is quick to make and quick to use. Not a long keeper. More like a daily salad.

Congratulations! It should now be an easy leap to start making more tsukemono, like daikon versions, eggplant, ginger, or even mustard greens. I highly recommend the book "Japanese Cooking" by Peter and Joan Martin, a couple who lived in Kyoto for years... the book is from the 1970's, and while it may not have the most up-to-date recipes, it has some old traditional ones that can be hard to find, written in a simple and straighforward manner, plus a guide to special utensils. Short of having an old-school Obaachan to take one in hand and show how to cook from scratch Japanese style, this book is a great resource for the type of traditional family cooking that one seldom sees in the glitzy Japanese cooking mags that tend to show fancier styles and more reliance on prefabricated products not always available elsewhere. The ISBN for this out-of-print book is 0-517-169657.



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    I bought mine (tsukenmonoki) in Japan many years ago. However, that was one of the recipes my ex forgot to teach me. Thanks for the instructable. I will see if I can create some instrucables for some of the other things my ex used to make and teach me. Her family owned the "Kado" restaurant on the Ginza in Tokyo and a Sushiya near Tachikawa AB, Japan. I lived in Japan for 27 years during my childhood and adulthood. I ate a completely Japanese diet for many years and traditional Japanese food is one thing I so miss here in the US. Hakusai is one of them. I almost enjoyed it more than the Hire Katsu or sukiyaki and the salty or pickled taste was my favorite part.

    1 reply

    Sounds like you have had an interesting life! Tsukemonoki of many types are available now on Amazon.com and elsewhere online, and they come with recipes and measurements (in Japanese, of course), so I hope you were able to fulfill your taste cravings! Thank you for the positive feedback on this Instructable. Using a tsukemonoki, even the inexpensive plastic ones available, according to the recipes included, is the preferred method.

    I'm not sure I know what 'tsamescue' is...could you describe it? I looked it up and the only reference I found to it on a cursory check online, was your question mentioning it here. Can you tell me about it?


    Hi. This is probably random, but I wanted to know how to make gari. I think it's absolutely delicious and have tried to google a recipe on how to make it, but haven't been successful. Any tips would be appreciated. Thank you.

    1 reply

    Ingredients: 1 Kg Ginger, 1 Lt Water, 60 gr Salt, 600 gr Sugar, 800 ml Rice Vinegar.

    Marinade. Add in a pot Water, salt, sugar and rice vinegar, stir at low heat until salt and sugar are dissolved.

    Soak ginger root in water for 15 min and peel them using a small spoon. Soak again peeled ginger in water with 3% salt for 30 minutes. Use a mandoline (preferably japanesse) to ultra thin slice the ginger. Put slices in a pot with water and bring to boil then discard water. Add water again and bring to a boil again for 5 minutes. Drain and let it cool.Press with hands to drain as much water as you can.

    In a jar add ginger slices and half of the marinade for 1 day. Then remove marinade and add the half remanining marinade. After 3 days your Gari is ready.

    TIP. If you want the Gari to be pink, add beet juice to the marinade ;)


    Hi. This is probably random, but I wanted to know how to make gari. I think it's absolutely delicious and have tried to google a recipe on how to make it, but haven't been successful. Any tips would be appreciated. Thank you.

    hi :), why not try organically grown nappa cabbage :)

    Thanks for the great instructions! I've been looking at other oshinko recipes and they add ingredients I knew my mother never used. I'm on day 2 on fermentation. I just used cabbage and carrots, but mine is too salty...can I rinse it?

    2 replies

    You are welcome! _ I tried to keep it basic.

    As for rinsing when it tastes too salty? You can, but be aware that that may cause it to take longer to ferment properly since you will be washing out much of the active organisms... it might set it back a bit, and if you remove that plus a little too much of the salt, it could just plain spoil. It is something to experiment with.

    If it is not too salty to ferment, you could also try rinsing each portion briefly before using, or else adding a small amount of water to your container, to let the salt level soak out a bit, while the juices continue to sour, so you won't lost the flavor. then you can use the extra juice in soups or whatnot.

    The best part of home crafted fermentation is that you can play with it, see what happens, and seek your own taste of perfection.

    You'll have to taste each batch to see if it's "too" salty.

    If you find that it is, just rinse out the portion you plan to eat.

    When I rinse mine, I leave it in a strainer to stand for about a half hour to let it drain and dry out a bit before serving.

    Typically, I use about 1/4 cup of regular pickling salt to 2 quarts of dry chopped veggies.

    Good job on the instructable! I just started a Nukamiso pot yesterday and want to give it at least a couple of days before I post my instructable.... in case it just turns in to a big sticky fruit fly farm. (Nukamiso is Japanese pickling done in a bed of rice bran or wheat bran.) Have you ever done this type of pickling? My mom made pickles the was that you showed and they were delicious but I don't remember her making nuka pickles. Though, back in the '70's she wouldn't have had access to the rice bran where we lived. It was a huge big deal to try to even get tofu! Peas, Eriko

    1 reply

    Thank you! I would like to try making nuka pickles soon as well. Seems once the nuka is cultured, it perpetuates itself, much like sourdough. Keep us posted on how that goes! Amazing how fermentation seems like such an esoteric thing until you actually get in and try it, and then it becomes clear why every culture has its fermented traditions: easy, frugal, and healthful!

    Thank you for this Instructable! I remember my mom making this when I was young, she used a 5 gallon plastic bucket with a dinner plate and a rock. She would put a dried chili pepper in the jar when she moved it to the fridge. This reminded me of how I much I used to enjoy it, so I bought a Napa cabbage on the way home from work tonight, now to find something to make it in!

    1 reply

    That's great! Isn't it nice to rediscover some of the lost arts of our families? A whole generation or more has not learned to make simple health-giving foods like Tsukemono (or Sauerkraut, or other ferments once practiced by nearly every family in a given culture), and we are only now learning how vital those foods, with their probiotic cultures that occur naturally, are to our health. Good for you! So what else did your mom make "back in the day"?

    I found a pickle press (Tsukemono) for sale on Amazon...