If you’ve never tasted yuzu, you’re in for a delightful surprise. It is usually translated as “Japanese citron,” but that doesn’t tell us much. It is about the size of a tangerine, and has a yellow-orange rind. The mature fruit is very seedy, and produces little juice, but is mostly highly prized for its fragrant and florally zest, which seems to combine the best flavors of meyer lemon, mandarin orange, and grapefruit. The unripe fruit, with its green rind, does provide some juice, which is exceedingly sour yet delicious.
It’s almost impossible to find fresh yuzu outside Japan, but bottled yuzu juice—which is almost as good, and certainly more convenient—is becoming widely available in Asian markets, especially Japanese markets. A 10-ounce bottle will cost you around $12, but it will last a long time, since you need only small quantities at a time. Yuzu powder—dehydrated and pulverized yuzu zest—is also becoming increasingly easy to find. Googling “yuzu juice” will yield a list of online purveyors. Intrepid gardeners can even try their hand at growing this thorny yet beautiful citrus. I’ve ordered two from Four Winds Growers, and both are doing well in our Marin climate, but, because it’s one of the few citruses that actually tolerate frost well, it should do well in chillier areas, too, as long as it has excellent drainage and at least six hours of direct sun a day.
In Japan, yuzu zest is used mainly to accent cooked vegetables, hotpots, custards, and fish, and is sometimes added to miso and to vinegar to infuse them with its florally wonders. Juice from green yuzu is often mixed with soy sauce (and often other ingredients) to form a dipping sauce known as ponzu. Many Japanese women love to put cut-up yuzu in their baths; there are even hot springs on the island of Shikoku, the heart of Japan’s yuzu country, that specialize in yuzu baths.
Yuzu has become the darling of many brand-name chefs, who are discovering its many joys and pushing the boundaries as they use it in ice creams and other desserts, cocktails, salad dressings, and all kinds of savory dishes. I’m told that the waiters at Jean-George, in New York, even put yuzu juice in an atomizer and spray it tableside on a scallop dish.
I like to use a small amount of yuzu juice—its intense power means that one must be careful of quantity—in braising liquids for fish and vegetables, and to combine some yuzu with raw tuna and eat it spooned over good bread. It’s also delightful mixed into a spoonful of miso, and then spread on fish and broiled. Or try some in a salad dressing along with some good olive oil, yogurt, and maple syrup.
Hunt it down–you’ll be really glad you did.
(photo by Craig Lee; originally appeared in the SF Chronicle on October 9, 2011)
Toro Avocado Yuzu Crostini
Makes about 24 small or 12 full-size crostini
These make wonderful starters for a dinner party. The secret, as usual, is to use the freshest of everything, especially the toro. You can substitute halibut or hamachi, or even cooked Dungeness crab works, too. The yuzu is well worth seeking out, but you can substitute a combo of Meyer lemon and grapefruit juices.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 cup finely diced shallots
- — Sea salt
- — Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 pound toro (fatty tuna belly), finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fruity extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon (or more) yuzu juice
- 1 ripe but firm medium avocado, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
- — Zest of 1 Meyer lemon, minced or grated
- 1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
- — About 24 lightly toasted baguette slices or 12 thin slices of sourdough batard
Instructions: Heat the butter in small skillet over low-medium heat. Add the shallots, and cook, stirring, until they brown and become crisp (about 5 minutes); be careful not to burn them. Transfer the shallots to paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set aside.
In a bowl, gently mix together the toro, olive oil and yuzu juice. Taste for salt. Gently fold in the avocado cubes.
Spoon a heaping tablespoon (or more) onto each slice of bread, Top with the crisp shallots, lemon zest and parsley.