Ask Peter: Yuzu
I am finally seeing yuzu in stores in New Zealand. Can you give us a few tips on where to use it? Can you change out other citrus for yuzu or is it not quite that simple?
I well remember the first time I had a moment with yuzu. We’d just opened The Sugar Club restaurant on All Saints Rd in Notting Hill, London, and I was so full of energy and excitement as we seemed to have hit a chord with the diners with my “bonkers” ingredient combinations.
Needless to say I was up for anything I could try to incorporate into my food. I was looking through the catalogue of one of our suppliers, Tazaki Japanese Foods, and in among the kinome leaves (prickly ash — sansho pepper/sichuan pepper if you’re talking China), perilla leaves (shiso) and pickled seaweeds, there was a citrus fruit called yuzu. The blurb said something along the lines of “highly aromatic, used sparingly by Buddhist monks in soup”.
Well, obviously I needed it. If yuzu was good enough for monks on a Japanese mountain, it would be perfect for me. A week or so later the Japanese delivery arrived and in among the bamboo leaves and disposable chopsticks were four rather ugly looking citrus fruit. Colour-wise they were somewhere between light green and pale yellow, of varying sizes from squat mandarin to fat round lemon.
However, I was thrilled that I’d discovered a new fruit and figured I’d start by making a lovely aromatic monk-pleasing sorbet. Cutting them open I realised I’d been sent old ones as they had barely any juice inside, but plenty of seeds.
I phoned my contact at Tazaki and complained that they were fairly dry but was told that, in fact, that was what they were like. So I figured it must be the rind that made it so irresistible — and in fact it was. I grated the zest, mixed it with the tiny amount of juice and ended up with the most delicious tangerine/mandarin/grapefruit aroma and flavour — and have never looked back since.
These days you can buy yuzu juice, and mostly it’s salty. The way they produce this is to chop the flesh and mix it with salt. The salt causes the juice to be “sucked out” and then the chopped flesh is pressed, which releases any juice as well as the essential oils from the zest and rind.
There is also plenty of yuzu juice on the market that isn’t salty and although there is a rarer form of sweet yuzu grown, I do wonder if sometimes it’s simply a very diluted version of the former, often tasting more of lemon than yuzu. Yuzu has such a pungent aroma that it’s hard to know if all yuzu is in fact yuzu.
They can be grown in New Zealand fairly easily, in fact I have two trees growing in Auckland — yet to fruit — so I’ll let you know how they go, if and when. The trees have long spiky thorns like a kaffir lime, so won’t suit all gardens, especially if you have young children running around.
I’ve heard from Japanese friends that around the winter solstice they’ll head to hot baths where yuzu fruit are bobbing around in the water to herald in the lengthening days — I’ve not experienced this, but I intend to.
Yuzu zest and juice can be added to dressings with Japanese influences, such as ponzu (mix 1 Tbsp yuzu juice and 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar or any white vinegar with 2 Tbsp light soy sauce and use to dip sashimi or steamed dumplings), and to a lovely dressing for avocado and chicken salad (mix 1 Tbsp yuzu juice with 2 tsp grain mustard, then mix in 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste).
For desserts and cakes simply replace lemon or orange zest with yuzu, but be wary, if the fruits are really ripe and pungent they can be overpowering. If you have a glut, peel strips of the skin off with a potato peeler (and remove any white pith) and store in an airtight bag in the freezer, or dry at room temperature for a day then blitz with sugar in the food processor to make a delicious yuzu sugar.
You can do the same with coarse salt for a seasoning to sprinkle on fish and seafood. Once the zest or peel is removed, juice the yuzu as best you can and then freeze in ice cube trays and use later in a cocktail, dressing or for a cake icing.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.