Today, I’m going to introduce one of my favorite exotic ingredients. It is a fruit from my native Japan called yuzu.
Yuzu is fairly difficult to come by, so it’s no wonder not many people have seen it or heard of it. If you were to take an orange, a lemon, and a lime, and squeezed them together, you’d get something close to yuzu. Its appearance is most like an orange, but with a very uneven, thick skin that is yellowish-green. Its flavors and aroma are distinctive and both the rind and juice can be used to highlight many dishes.
I began experimenting with yuzu when I was visiting my mother and brother in Kumamoto, Japan, many years ago.
They live in a rural area, so dishes are not complicated but full of flavor, and ingredients always fresh. I was walking through a farmers’ market and saw a stand with oranges, lemons and some fruit I didn’t recognize. I asked the woman at the stand if the fruit was a type of lemon and she explained that it was yuzu, all the while looking at me as if I were from outer space. The she cut one in half and told me to close my eyes and inhale deeply. The citrusy scent was very interesting -- vaguely familiar but with an added dimension.
This is exactly what I consider yuzu to be: a citrus fruit with an added dimension. In Japan, it’s as common as a lime or lemon, but outside Japan it’s fairly difficult to come by in its raw form. Its fragrance has proponents of lemon, lime, and mandarin orange, naturally blended together via nature. I use it instead of lemon or lime juice in recipes to add a depth of flavor. I’ve used yuzu for vinaigrettes, sauces, aiolis, soda bases and, a favorite at Jean-Georges, pickles. Here in the States, I’ve only used the juice. In Japan, shreds or slivers of its rind are used to accent cooked vegetables, noodles, soups, and fish. The zest and very sour component of the juice can be used to give a multi-dimensional boost to soy sauces, miso, and ponzu vinegar.
Fresh yuzu in the fruit form can be as hard to find as wasabi root, but its juice is fairly easy to find. The juice is available online, including at www.amazon.com and www.chefsresource.com. If you’re near a large Asian grocery store that has a good Japanese product section, you may be lucky enough to find yuzu there.