PICKLED PLUMS AND PICKLED PLUM “VINEGAR” (UMEBOSHI AND UMEZU)
If I had to pick one pickle that best represents all of tsukemono, this one, said to be among the oldest, would certainly be it. How can I begin to describe my love for umeboshi? Their flavor is truly like nothing else on earth— tart, puckery, salty—and when I have them, I eat them every day. They just make me feel good, and I swear that nothing is more effective for an upset stomach. I apologize in advance for asking you to find such an obscure ingredient as ume (see page 191) or mature but unripened apricots. If you can find them, though, you should absolutely make this.
• TIME: 3 TO 7 WEEKS • MAKES ABOUT 6 CUPS OF UMEBOSHI AND 3 CUPS OF UMEZU •
2 and 1⁄2 pounds ume or mature but unripened apricots, washed
1 cup kosher salt
15 to 20 red shiso leaves, either fresh or preserved in salt (optional)
Place the plums in a 1- to 2-gallon vessel made of ceramic, glass, or food-grade plastic and cover them with water by 2 inches. Cover with a weighted plate or a plastic bag filled with water to keep them submerged. Let them soak 8 hours or overnight.
Drain the plums and return to the container, sprinkle with half of the salt, and toss to combine. Sprinkle the remaining salt evenly over the tops of the plums. Cover the plums with a drop lid—a pot lid, plate, or plastic container lid the right size to fit inside the pickling vessel without touching the sides. Place 2 and 1⁄2 pounds of weight (cans, rocks, or whatever is suitable and handy) on top of the drop lid. Cover the top of the container loosely with a clean cloth to let air flow in but keep out insects and debris. Store at cool room temperature in a dark place.
Check the plums after 2 days. Liquid will have started to form in the bottom; this is umezu (plum “vinegar”), a very desirable substance for seasoning, pickling vegetables, and marinating. Leave it where it is for now—the ume need this precious liquid. Stir the plums every couple of days for 2 to 3 weeks, replacing the drop lid and weights each time, until they are completely covered in liquid. If tiny spots of mold form on the surface, remove them with a clean finger or a paper towel and discard.
If you’re using the shiso (which will color the plums and lend them its flavor), lay the cleaned shiso leaves evenly over the top of the plums to cover completely, then press down firmly. Either way, replace the lid and weights and leave in the cool and the dark for a couple more days.
Once the plums are covered completely in their own brine, remove the drop lid and the weight and cover the plums loosely with a lid or kitchen towel, allowing for some airflow. Return the vessel to its cool, dark place and allow the plums to continue to brine for an additional 1 to 4 weeks, tasting once a week, until they have reached the level of puckery tartness that you desire.
When the umeboshi are fermented to your satisfaction, drain and reserve the umezu and store it in a pouring bottle at room temperature. Use anywhere you’d normally use vinegar (being mindful that additional salt won’t usually be necessary) or soy sauce. The umezu will last almost indefinitely. If you like, you can add more red shiso to the umezu to enhance its color and flavor.
Spoon the plums and the shiso leaves into clean jars with secure lids; cover and refrigerate. Share with your friends. Kept refrigerated, these plums will keep for at least a year—until the next ume crop!
Note: Mashed up with sugar and seltzer water in the bottom of a tall, icy glass, umeboshi make a wicked “lemonade.”
Umeboshi and Umezu for Tokyo Thursdays # 289
(* Reprinted with permission from Asian Pickles by Karen Solomon, copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography (c) 2014 by Jennifer Martine...)