October 2023: Sichuan Pickling Jars and Kits + DIY Salted Duck Eggs

October 23, 2023

October 2023: Sichuan Pickling Jars and Kits + DIY Salted Duck Eggs

Classy Classic Pickle Jars 

Greetings, Friends of The Mala Market

Two new ceramic pickling jars have joined the glass paocai jar in our lineup! And not only that, but now all of our Chinese fermentation jars come with the key ingredients and instructions to get you started making pickles the Sichuan way. 

These products have been in the works for a long time, as we located a company to custom make these Sichuan-style fermentation vessels in Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China. It also took some effort to secure Sichuan's famed Zigong well salt, without which no Sichuan pickler would dare to pickle (read on for its fascinating history). 

We wanted to make pickling as easy as possible, so we continued to perfect our paocai instructions and add additional blog posts and recipes for preserving vegetables (and more): Part 2 of our Ultimate Guide to Sichuan Pickling provides tips and tricks for maintaining a brine for months (or years!). And Zoe Yang brings us recipes for salted duck eggs and for using the salted egg yolks. As with most things, homemade, freshly cured eggs beat store-bought by a mile.


🌶 Taylor & Fongchong 🌶
P.S. How did you like the Chengdu Crispy Chili Oil we launched last month? If you've had a chance to try it, we'd be so grateful if you could show it some love in a review. That little boost will help others find it, so just scroll to the bottom of the page and leave your thoughts. 

The NYT's brilliant food-and-culture writer Ligaya Mishan likes it so much she has taken to frying her eggs in it. Her husband protested that it's too precious for that, so she took an Instagram poll. Where do you stand? Fry your eggs in chili oil? Or use it only as a topping?
Sichuan Paocai Pickling Kit (White Ceramic Jar for Lacto-Fermentation)
Sichuan Paocai Pickling Kit (White Ceramic Jar for Lacto-Fermentation)

We had this 4-liter, matte-white Chinese pickle jar custom made. We love its slightly pearlescent soft-white finish and the fact that it is as beautiful as it is functional. In addition to the jar, all of our Sichuan pickling starter kits include:

  • Sichuan's specialty pickling salt
  • a small bag of Sichuan pepper for flavoring
  • our meticulously tested recipe and instructions for making lacto-fermented pickles the Sichuan way. 

Designed thousands of years ago to be the ideal form for naturally fermenting vegetables, the shape of the Sichuan pickle jar has two inherent advantages:

1) The narrow opening and wide shoulders of the jar help keep the contents below the brine—which is key for mold-free natural fermentation—without the use of weights, and 2) The moat around the opening holds water that makes a natural seal, allowing the carbon dioxide released during fermentation to escape while sealing out unwanted oxygen and contaminants. 

This particular jar is made of porcelain in Jingdezhen, China, in a high-fired, thick, durable clay form. It is glazed inside and out. 

With a 4 liter (17 cup) capacity, the jar is a medium-large size for home use.

We recommend the glass jar (see below) for shorter ferments and the larger, opaque ceramic jars for longterm ferments (months or years), but you can certainly use either jar for all brine pickling.

Sichuan Paocai Pickling Kit (Black Ceramic Jar for Lacto-Fermentation)
Sichuan Paocai Pickling Kit (Black Ceramic Jar for Lacto-Fermentation)

Identical in design and size to the white jar, this 4-liter jar has a slightly pearlescent charcoal-black glaze. 

If you are new to natural fermentation, glass paocai jars are ideal. There’s something very satisfying about seeing the transformation in the vegetables as they go from fresh to pickled. Not only do the multicolored vegetables look vibrant and sexy in their glass jar for the first couple days, but you will be able to see if and when fermentation begins, as the brine begins to bubble and go cloudy and the vegetables begin to darken. You can also easily monitor for harmless kahm yeast and scary mold. A glass paocai jar is also recommended if you plan on short ferments, such as cabbage and radishes, or plan to keep the brine going for only a few weeks up to a couple months.

However, if you wish to keep, grow and deepen the flavor of your brine over the long term, a ceramic paocai jar is a much better option. One reason is aesthetics: The more vegetables you ferment in the brine, the more buildup you get in the bottom of the jar. This yellowish-white powder is spent bacteria from fermentation and totally natural, but it’s not totally appealing.  A more important reason to opt for the ceramic jar, though, is that it blocks all light from the pickles, which nurtures a healthier brine over time, allowing you to develop an intensely—but always pleasantly—fragrant and flavorful "forever" brine. Vegetables in, pickles out, in an ongoing cycle of fermentation. 


Making Your First Batch of Sichuan Pickles

We've updated our original recipe and instructions for making paocai, or Sichuan pickles. If you’ve yet to make your first batch, please start with this thorough guide. It will walk you through choosing a container, the type of salt and salt concentration, and the best vegetables to get started. 

It also provides a guideline to fermentation times and ideas for serving and cooking with your pickles. 

Ceramic pickling jars with pickles

Maintaining a Sichuan Pickle Brine Long Term

This new post is for those you have successfully fermented a batch or two of Sichuan pickles and are now obsessed! It will walk you through maintaining a brine that is sour but fresh, intensely but appealingly fragrant and flavorful, so that you can have super healthy, probiotic, low-calorie pickles on the counter in your lovely Sichuan pickle jar at all times and for years to come.

Check out these tips and troubleshooting steps if you'd run into problems with vegetable fermentation. 

Fresh and pickled long bean stir-fry

Fresh and Pickled Long Bean Stir-Fry 

One veg I always have in one of my paocai jars is yardlong beans, because they come in so handy for making a noodle topping or a rice-loving stir-fry. 

This easy dish came about when I wondered what would happen if you crossed dry-fried green beans (ganbian sijidou) and pickled long bean and pork stir-fry (roumo jiangdou). I saw a recent Instagram photo of such a dish and remembered eating it in Chengdu. The answer? You’d have the fresh-fried snap of the green bean and the tart pickle of the long bean but with less effort than the first dish and less pork than the second. Win-win!

It’s amazing how well the fresh and pickled forms of the green beans complement each other; two faces of the same bean, one bright and crisp, the other dark and sour. I now make this in great quantities for Fongchong, who likes it as much as either of those two more-famous dishes.

Zigong Well Salt for Pickling (Set of 2)
Zigong Well Salt for Pickling (Set of 2)

The key ingredient for a pickling brine is salt, and while kosher salt or any iodide-free salt will work for fermentation, serious Sichuan picklers will use nothing but their local Zigong well salt. 

This legendary salt comes from brine deep under the ground in Zigong, Sichuan, site of the world’s very first brine wells, drilled in 252 B.C.! (Mark Kurlansky's fascinating book Salt: A World History spends a lot of pages on Zigong and its revolutionary well drilling.) While the original wells are no longer open (other than one historical demonstration well), this refined salt is still made by drilling for underground brine in Zigong. In fact, Zigong's deep drilling and well-salt production techniques are one of the few foods in China recognized as National Intangible Cultural Heritage.

For literally millennia, Sichuan cooks have sworn by this salt, for its taste, purity, nutrients and, in the modern era, its lack of added iodide and anti-caking agents, which they feel ruins the taste of salt and the food it’s used in. Especially for pickling, where iodide can kill fermentation, serious cooks insist on this Sichuan salt.

And old-timers will also tell you the coarser the salt the better. According to Juida, the 100-year-old manufacturer, the extra-large grains—actually small pellets—of this pickling salt allow a sustained release that penetrates vegetables more efficiently and results in a brighter color, crispier pickle and less spoilage.

DIY salted duck eggs and pickling jar

DIY Salted Duck Eggs

Vegetables are not the only thing you can preserve in your paocai jars. Our contributor Zoe Yang made salted duck eggs in the black ceramic jar. Now, she happens to looooove salted duck eggs, so making the two dozen that fill the jar worked for her, but you can use a different fermentation vessel to make just a dozen if you like, remembering that, as with vegetables, the eggs must always remain submerged in the brine. 

Whether you've never had or heard of salted duck eggs or you chase after every new trendy application of salted egg yolks, you will want to read Zoe's analysis of how the rise of salted egg yolks mirrors the average Chinese citizen's rise out of poverty and into the luxury-loving middle class in the short timespan of her youth. Here's how she begins this homage:


"Nothing makes me think of Nanjing like salted duck eggs—fresh duck eggs preserved in a salt brine, or more traditionally, salty alkaline clay. The process slowly draws all the water content out of the egg and infuses it with sodium, turning the white of the egg, when cooked, into a pickled version of itself—gelatinous, briny and lightly sulfuric. The yolk becomes a translucent orange orb, with taste and texture most akin to the crystals you sometimes find sprinkled throughout very old, very fine Parmesan or Gouda: a sandy, fatty jewel of umami.

"It’s not just that Nanjing is the 'duck capital' of China, accounting for some 100 million ducks consumed annually (and, one presumes, some order of magnitude more duck eggs). It’s not even that Jiangsu Province is where salted duck eggs were invented over a thousand years ago. More simply and selfishly, I was raised on salted duck eggs. I was a picky eater, and late '80s China was pre-reform, pre-wealth China; options were limited. My parents found that the easiest way to deliver enough fat and protein into my mouth was by scooping out a precious half of a salted duck egg and feeding it to me with congee. One half for lunch, the other for dinner."

Golden sand corn

Golden Sand Corn

My own introduction to salted egg yolks was in this dish, called golden sand corn. I fell in love with it at a Sichuan restaurant, but it's easily made at home. Mash those salted egg yolks you cured into an umami coating for big corn kernels. Here's Zoe's recipe and thoughts on why you should make it:

"Golden sand corn is a favorite of mine—the eggy funk pairs beautifully with starchy-sweet corn kernels—and it is very 下饭 (xiàfàn), rice friendly. I especially love serving this dish as a reprieve alongside lots of spicy foods, since the egg yolks have the same effect as a tall glass of milk."
Sichuan Paocai Pickling Kit (Mouth-Blown Glass Jar for Lacto-Fermentation)
Sichuan Paocai Pickling Kit (Mouth-Blown Glass Jar for Lacto-Fermentation)

Many of you already own our artisan-made, mouth-blown glass pickling jar, which we've carried for a couple years now. But if you don't, it may be the time to jump in, since it now it comes with ingredients and instructions.

Or perhaps it's time to share the joy of Sichuan pickling with a friend!

This smaller jar holds about 10 cups brine and is a medium size for home pickling.