Umeboshi is a salty-sour Japanese condiment made from pickled ume plums. Ubiquitous in the motherland, it’s often served with plain rice (the round, red plum and white rice form a patriotic nod to the Japanese flag) to make a traditional, working-class meal. And because of its alkaline properties, umeboshi is widely used to treat ailments associated with high blood-acid levels—from indigestion and nausea to post-sake hangovers. Although widely available in Japanese markets and restaurants, house-made umeboshi is much less common on this side of the Pacific.
Chef Harold Jurado of Chizakaya—a Japanese pub in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood—started pickling umeboshi for pragmatic reasons: to reduce waste and loss. Last fall, the restaurant’s cocktail menu was ripe with plum concoctions, but at the end of the season, Jurado and Chizakaya mixologist Chantelle Pabros struck plums from the drink menu, leaving crates of orphaned Ebony plums at their disposal. In lieu of letting them rot, Jurado cured the plums to make umeboshi’s American cousin.
The locally sourced Ebony plums are rich red and sweet in contrast to the hard, green, sour ume plums (which are, for the sake of full disclosure, members of the apricot family and not plums at all). Jurado cures the Western plum variety in the traditional Japanese manner—he weighs the plums and adds 12 percent salt by weight. After curing them for one to three weeks, Jurado adds the whole plums (pits and all) to a food processor, along with lime juice and zest, garlic, and rice oil, and makes a smooth umeboshi paste.
Jurado pairs his house-made umeboshi paste with hamachi, bone marrow, and garlic chips. The umeboshi is the chef’s Japanese play on onion jam, which often accompanies bone marrow, and the condiment’s sweet and sour notes naturally compliment the soft, fresh hamachi. “There are no limits to using umeboshi,” Jurado says. “It’s so versatile because of its complex characteristics: sourness, saltiness, slight sweetness, and strong ume flavor.”
Step 1: Cover plums with kosher salt.
Step 2: Let the plums sit at room temperature for seven days, or until the liquid build-up submerges the plums.
Step 3: Store the plums for up to a year in clean mason jars.
Step 4: Blend the cured plums with lime juice and zest, garlic, and rice oil to make umeboshi vinaigrette.