Sichuan Brined Pickles

Yield: 24 Servings

Cook Time: 2 hours + 3 to 5 days fermentation

Watch Video

Pao cai pickles are fermented with the microorganisms naturally present in the environment and on the vegetables. It’s a living food that can span generations, with brine from one batch jump-starting the next. Be sure to save brine for your next batch, and share some with new picklers!




24 oz water (3 cups)
½ inch ginger, cut into 4 slices
¼ tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tbsp sea salt



1 lb bao xing cai green cabbage
½ lb very fresh white radish, peeled
½ lb carrot

3 tablespoons high proof alcohol (35% ABV Michiu Tou rice wine or 56% ABV Er Guo Tou or Gaoliang Jiu sorghum grain alcohol)**



sesame oil
toasted sesame seeds



*Other varieties of cabbage and radish will work too. So will other sturdy vegetables with a good juicy crunch, like cauliflower, kohlrabi, or long beans.

**We used vodka with good results! —Eds.


1. Make the brine. Add the water, ginger, peppercorns, and garlic to a pot. Bring to a boil then take off the heat. Add the salt and stir until it dissolves.

2. Set the brine aside to cool. Give it at least an hour to reach lukewarm temperature.

3. Wash and air dry your fermentation vessel. (A Chinese ceramic vessel is best, or a container with an airlock, but you can also get resourceful with jars you already have!)

4. Prep the vegetables. Remove the bruised or torn outer leaves of the cabbage. (Save them for soup, steaming, or stir fry!) Rinse the cabbage, radish, and carrot under running water, then leave to drain in a colander.

5. Tear the cabbage leaves into rough bite-sized pieces, 1 ½ inches or smaller.

6. Peel and slice the radish and carrot into slices ⅓ inch thick or smaller. Taste all the vegetables for sweetness and discard any that taste bitter. (You can peel root vegetables to remove some of the bitterness in the skin.)

7. Sterilize your vessel by pouring in the alcohol and placing the lid back on. Swirl it to coat the interior, including the lid. Then pour the alcohol into the cooled brine. (If you saved brine from an older pickle batch, add it now.)

8. Pack the sterilized vessel with the vegetables.

9. Place a fitted weight (cup, small jar, or smooth stone) on the vegetables. Pour the brine over the vegetables. No vegetables should be poking out past the brine level. Seal with an airtight lid.

10. Set aside at room temperature. Check on your pickle aquarium daily and monitor for any unusual activity on the surface. If mold forms, remove it right away, and make sure all vegetables are submerged under the brine level.

11. Sample after 2 days—the taste should be mildly tart! Ferment for 2 to 3 more days until the brine turns cloudy and the cabbage appears translucent, as if cooked. The ripeness is up to you. Refrigerate when you find the pickles to be super delicious.

Pao Cai makes a refreshing side dish. If you’re feeling fancy, dress them up with a drizzle of sesame oil and toasted seeds. Save some brine to add to your next batch of pickles.

The pickles will continue to slowly ferment in your fridge. When very sour, add pao cai pickles and brine to brothy soups! Especially tasty in fish soup or lamb broth. 

Recipe by Jess Wang

“Whenever we visited my grandparents’ apartment in Monterey Park in the ’90s, a jar of homemade Sichuan pao cai or jiuniang (sweet rice wine) made by my grandmother Nai Nai or one of my gu gus (aunts) was pulled out of the fridge to enhance our meal. 

It’s not specific meals I remember, but the cold, crisp pao cai cabbage pickles. Flecked with carrots like commas, they made their humble vessel—a repurposed glass condiment jar—shine. I was enamored by the aromatic flavors and tingly notes of spice. I later learned the tingle came from Sichuan peppercorns, which are related to citrus plants. 

Nai Nai was born and raised in Hubei, neighboring Sichuan. Though I don’t have her recipe, I’ve come close to recreating it through memory, research, and help from my gu gus.”

JESS WANG is a Chinese American fermentation specialist, dessert chef, and micro-entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. She divides her time between creating seasonal treats for @gu_grocery and hosting pickling and Chinese cooking experiences through Picklé

More Recipes

Oral Traditions

About this project

Recipe Title Here

Recipe English Here