Takuan is fermented daikon radish. Packed whole in rice bran and salt and left to transform into one of the most delicate and luscious foods I’ve tasted. I know that’s a strong statement, but in my experience, radishes are anything but delicate. Delicious, but often with a strong bite and a bitter aftertaste. I expected a bit more crunch, but what I got was a softer texture, more akin to rare tenderloin beef stake. And then, a lingering sweetness, with just a hint of alcohol on the palette.
The process is all explained in Sandor’s latest book, The Art of Fermentation.
[A side note: I visited Sandor a year and a half ago, and while in his studio, I noticed a crock on the shelf with Takuan written on it. I inquired, and he opened it up and retrieved a pickle from within. After that first taste, I knew I’d be making a batch of my own.]
It’s a pretty simple process, and no chopping.
I purchased 80 lbs of whole tops-on radishes from a local food co-op. I washed them to remove sand, and then put them on boards in the direct sun for about 1 week. At that time I could bend the largest ones in a circle easily, and with no breaking.
I purchased and used pre-made pickling mix from a nearby Asian food market and followed the directions in Sandor’s book. I drank saké while I packed the crock, and occasionally splashed a shot or two in the mix.
I filled the crock then added the dry radish tops. Placed a plate and weight (which was a exceedingly large concrete cinder block).
To my amazement, the layers of radish and bran dropped nearly 6 inches under the weight of the block, and filled with brine. (I regret never tasting the brine, as it would likely by delicious.) Over the course of the year, the brine evaporated leaving a dark, somewhat sticky layer on the plate.
When I lifted the weight and plate, the tops of the radishes were still very much intact. I had expected a brown layer of sludge at best. But the old radish tops were there, very much looking like radish tops, and with the aroma of fresh humus, mowed alfalfa hay, and alcohol. They taste pretty good, too.
But the radish is really the gem in the crock: Very aromatic, golden nutty color, so wonderful on the palette, and so unlike the radish that I started with.
In addition to the great tasting pickle, in my research I learned that the Journal of Nutrition reports that Takuan has 7 times more vitamin B than fresh raw daikon.
Here’s the brand of pickling mix I used.