A few weeks ago, the stars aligned in such a way that I was able to indulge in an impromptu trip to Tokyo. The airfare was cheap, both Laura and I had time off, and the yen-pound exchange rate was the best we’d seen for years. We were only in Tokyo for five days – ordinarily, such a short trip is foolish when you consider the base costs, but in this case those costs were so low it seemed silly not to go.
There is, of course, a lot to get excited about in a holiday to Japan. But one of the things I was most looking forward to was the citrus fruit, which is in season right now. Japanese citrus fruits are more varied than what we typically find in the UK, and in my opinion, more delicious. I was particularly hopeful about the prospect of buying some dekopon, the one true King of Oranges. Actually a hybrid tangerine from Kumamoto, it looks cool, peels easily, rarely has seeds, and has a flavor like orange Crush spiked with preserved lime. It’s candy-sweet but with an effervescent tartness. It is the Platonic ideal of an orange.
Happily, it was easy for me to find dekopon, along with a huge range of other citrus including Japanese kumquats, sudachi limes, banpeiyu pomelos, hyuganatsu grapefruits, and of course, the famous yuzu. Yuzu is one of my favorite flavors in Japanese gastronomy, and I’m not alone. It’s currently sweeping the nation with its intriguing aroma and balanced acidity – Waitrose now sells pure yuzu juice, Sainsbury’s sells a yuzu juice blend, and seemingly every week a new microbrewery announces they’ve got a yuzu beer in the tanks. It’s a good time to be a yuzuphile.
But the problem is, it’s still virtually impossible to get fresh yuzu here. The juice has become common, and you can find the dried or frozen peel at Japanese supermarkets, but no fresh fruit. Which is a shame, because the best way to use yuzu is to harness the volatile aromas in its peel, aromas that seem to dissipate almost entirely in processing. I had several meals in Tokyo that featured yuzu, and I was amazed at just how little grated fresh peel you need to flavor an entire dish – a pinch is all it takes to lift a bowl of soymilk soup, or a scallop dumpling, or a grilled prawn. Determined to harness the power of fresh yuzu in my own cooking, I piled half a dozen of them into my suitcase and took them home.
There’s just one snag: you actually need so little yuzu peel to add flavor food that I am having trouble getting through them all before they go off. So today, I figured I would try to preserve what I had left, but in a way that won’t prematurely vaporize or break down its aroma. Here’s what I came up with.
To fully understand what I was dealing with, I first dissected the yuzu to taste each of its individual parts separately: peel, pith, pulp, and seeds. The seeds were noxiously bitter and horrible so that’s the last I’ll mention of them. The peel, as I knew, was tender, oily, and aromatic. But interestingly, the pith was also quite good – unlike most citrus, it wasn’t very bitter. It was almost kind of sweet. It had a spongy texture and a light acidity and was overall very pleasant, which is fortunate, because there is a lot of it.
I took about half the peel and pith (38g in total) and julienned it, then simply muddled it into 380g of rapeseed oil. Right now the oil has already picked up some of the yuzu’s lemony zip. The hope is that over the course of a week or so, more of the yuzu’s compounds will infuse into the oil. It can then be strained and drizzled onto soups or used in light dressings. Now we play the waiting game.
Salted Yuzu Paste
One of my favorite yuzu products is yuzu-kosho, a paste made from pounding yuzu peel, hot chillies, and salt together. The mixture is typically matured before using, so that the flavors to meld together. I think it is one of the most delicious condiments in the world, at once salty, tart, and spicy. Its aroma is strongly evergreen, almost woody. The only problem is that it is hot, and there are often dishes to which I’d like to add a yuzu-kosho aroma without the yuzu-kosho heat. So I wondered if I could make a kosho-free yuzu-kosho, a yuzu-nosho, if you will. I finely diced the remaining pith and peel (31g) and bashed it to an oily paste with 10% its weight in salt (3.1g). I am going to let it rest at room temperature for at least a week before using, and I suspect it will improve over time.
With the pith and peel squared away, I was left with the yuzu’s spongy, seedy pulp. I squeezed out as much juice as I could – only a tablespoon or so from the whole fruit, which goes to show why the juice is so expensive – and stopped myself before throwing the squeezed-out membranes in the bin. This was the bitterest part of the yuzu, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Not knowing when I would next be able to get my hands on a fresh yuzu, I decided to try and salvage this as well. I put it in a jar and poured over some vodka. I shook it up, and now I’ll wait for few days. With a little luck I will have a bitter and aromatic infusion to flavor light, citrus-friendly cocktails like sidecars, Vespers, and gimlets.
I will report back in a week or two on how everything is tasting. Working with the fresh yuzu has made me think about other citrus as well – ordinary stuff, the stuff we take for granted. If my oil, paste, and bitters turn out as intended, I may never waste another shred of citrus again.