Japanese Yuzu

| February 4, 2007 | 8 Comments
  • 8 Comments

“Have car will travel for ramen” was the title of the email. Stanley’s parents were in Hong Kong, and he was ready to share his ride. With a carload of lucky friends, he braved rush-hour traffic to make it down to San Mateo by 5 pm, but we were silly enough to stop first at Ichiban Kan. By the time we arrived at Santa Ramen, the line stretched down the block. After counting the chairs inside and then the heads outside, to make sure we would at least get in during the second seating, we joined the other hungry pilgrims.

An hour later, to celebrate the season, I ordered shoyu broth with citron peel and seaweed. Santa Ramen makes a very rich bowl of soup, so the lemony bits were perfect counterbalance.

On the way back the City, we stopped at my favorite Japanese market, family-owned Suruki Supermarket, where the entire staff goes out of its way to answer even the most basic questions. A couple of yuzu a.k.a. citron made their way into my basket. I couldn’t wait to release their lovely flowery fragrance. The fruit’s sharply sour juice is balanced by deep notes of tangerine in its peel. A high ratio of seed to pip and a thick, bumpy rind reveals it strength: zest, zest, and more zest.

If you aren’t able to track down the fresh fruit or if you prefer convenience, ask for yuzu juice. Look for ingredient labels that list nothing except the fruit itself and a slightly clouded liquid (Rule #138: The more clarified an infused or pressed liquid, the less flavor it carries.) Expect to splurge a bit; this small bottle was almost $10 but as soon as I twisted off the lid, I could smell the yuzu’s distinctive fragrance.

You’ll also find it highlighted in different condiments, such as dipping sauces or pickling salts, or in other base ingredients like miso and vinegar. Even if you can’t read Japanese, you’ll recognize the bumpy, round, yellow fruit on the labels.

My favorite ways to enjoy yuzu:

Vinaigrette — Whisk the juice with a lightly flavored oil, delicate vinegar (champagne vinegar is really nice for this), salt and white pepper. Variations include adding a hint of ginger (grate half an inch of a very fresh root and then squeeze out a few drops), a tiny dab of Dijon mustard (not enough to actually taste!) or a quick stir of honey. Dress a simple salad, such as escarole leaves and paper-thin radish slices, watercress and toasted almonds, roasted golden beets, or blanched leeks. Drizzle over quickly seared seafood or use as a dipping sauce for steamed crab.

Pickles — When making kimchee or tsukemono I toss in some julienned peel (for quick pickles) or wide strips (for longer fermenting ones).

Clear Soup — Prepare a clear broth from scratch, such as dashi or consomme. In a pinch, use a good-quality chicken or vegetable broth (preferably made with sweeter vegetables). Gently simmer small cubes of silken tofu, very thinly sliced carrots (this is your chance to use those flower-shaped cutters!) or a few leaves of baby spinach. Garnish with thin slivers of yuzu peel.

Broiled Salmon — Stir the juice and grated peel into white miso, mirin, sake, and white pepper. Spread over center-cut strips of wild salmon and broil, skin-side down, until almost opaque at the center.

Noodle soups — Sprinkle slivers of yuzu peel over hot soba or fresh ramen soup. Garnish with strips of roasted nori.

Creamy desserts — Substitute for regular lemons in custard tarts, mousses, curds, or cake fillings.

Hot Tea — Steep the peel in just boiling water, squeeze in some of the fresh juice, stir in a spoonful of lavender honey, and snuggle down with a good book.

Japanese markets in the Bay Area:

Suruki Supermarket
71 E. 4th Ave.
San Mateo
(650) 347-5288

Nijiya Market
1737 Post St.
San Francisco
(415) 563-1901

Tokyo Fish Market
1220 San Pablo Ave.
Albany
(510) 524-7243

Yaoya-San
10566 San Pablo Ave.
El Cerrito
(510) 526-7444

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Category: Bay Area Bites Food + Drink

About the Author ()

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place. Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website, wanderingspoon.com, to learn more about her culinary adventures.
  • shuna fish lydon

    Oh Yuzu!! Oh how I love it. The first one I saw was illegal and small. And there are the occasional sightings at Berkeley Bowl.

    But my best yuzu experience was a yuzu marmalade that changed my (mouth’s) life.

    Thanks for the tips and the links– always good to remember what’s just outside our well travelled paths!

  • JLT

    Nobu in NYC has a sort of chirashi with greens – sort of Korean style without the hot sauce – with a super heavy yuzu dressing that is one of my favorite things in the world. Thanks for some background on one of my favorite tastes.

  • Cindy

    I didn’t know the citron and yuzu were the same. Does that mean that yuzu’s related to Buddha’s hand too?

  • Thy Tran

    Cindy: Yes, they are very close cousins! Buddha’s Hand is also known as Fingered Citron. I’ll let the experts explain…http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/citron.html.

    BTW, this online database, Purdue University’s NewCrop program, is an excellent source of information on crops, agriculture, horticulture, and landscape architecture.

  • Thy Tran

    Here’s the actual link to the NewCROP database.

  • Marc

    I have seen yuzu trees for sale at East Bay nurseries, so I assume they grow well here.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Bay Area Bites!
    Greetings!
    Discovered your post on Japanese yuzu through a very circuitous route.
    Great blog! Will have to lengthen my white nights a little longer!
    I found your Vinaigrette sugestion more than excellent, although I was a bit biased, being born in Dijon! (I’m a French expat living in Japan)
    My wife and I use Yuzu and Yuzu ponzu almost every day, especially in home-made “o-nabe”!
    As I’m on a different blog provider, I invite you to visit 2 of mine at shizuokasushi.wordpress.com and shizuokasake.wordpress.com.
    I’m sure wehave a lot of views and recipes to exchange!
    Looking forward to reading you soon!
    Cheers,
    Robert-Gilles

  • Thy Tran

    Your shizuokasushi site is full of excellent information and wonderful photos. Very useful tips about preparing and enjoying sushi — I never knew that male fish have better quality flesh — and yet another reminder to get myself back to Japan soon. Only wish I could be there for the conger eel season. Thanks so much for sharing!