Japanese pickled plums are created using only 4 ingredients:
plums, shiso, sea salt, and shochu.
1) 4.5 lbs or 2.041 kg of plums, preferably and traditionally you should use Ume plums but any firm, umblemished plum will do
2) .5 lb or 245 grams of flaked sea salt (12% weight ratio of plums)
3) 7 ounces or 204 grams of red shiso or perilla leaves (10% weight ratio of plums)
4) 8.64 fluid ounces or 256 mL of shochu or shouchuu, a type of Japanese distilled alcohol, at 25% ABV it is weaker than vodka but stronger than sake (12% weight ratio to plums)
Start by gently washing the fruit, changing out the cold water several times.
If any part of the stem remains, use a pair tweezers to remove any bits. The stem can make the fruit taste bitter.
Soak the plums overnight in enough water to just cover them, 3/4 cup or 204 grams sea salt, and 6 ounces or 177 mL shochu.
Here are the well washed plums starting their 12+ hour soak in salt and shochu water.
Here in Buffalo, NY you either have to mail-order dried shiso or grow it yourself. I didn’t grow any this year and so was thrilled when I walked into the Lexington Co-op the other night and saw them sprouted.
The other way you can pickle these is to use a 3 gallon pickling crock with a weeping channel, weights, and a lid. The equipment can be fairly expensive but it is also the more traditional route for the 4 to 7 day pickling.
I had the plums go through an extra long pickling since the temps have been under 60*F for so many days. Transferred them to trays and wrapped the top trays in a single layer of cheesecloth to control for humidity and fruit flies and keep the plums from dripping too much on the heat coil.
Since I used cling-pit style plums, I decided to pit 2/3 of the fruit for easier use and keep eight intact for effect when dishing for parties.
Neat trick I learned from a pickler in Japan. When the sun won’t shine or the rain won’t stop, wrap only the upper levels of trays (to prevent the fabric from getting too warm or scorching) in a single layer of muslin, raw silk, or cheesecloth to keep the humidity and insects under control.
The one on the left is a quartered whole plum and it’s got a great texture, scent, and flavor. The one on the right is a bit too dehydrated but will soften a bit when I wash the salt crystals off it and the other halves.
I washed the excess salts that formed on the surface while they dried, then mashed them down to a paste. The paste looks better and is easier to use in recipes.