i should apologize for the title of this post, but i won’t. it’s awesome and i am 100% unashamed.
let’s go ahead and nip this in the bud. there are, more likely than not, a fair amount of people out there reading this post and thinking “what is yuzu?” there are a couple of answers to that question.
first, the short answer. yuzu is delicious.
and now, the long answer.
the yuzu is believed to be a cross between Citrus reticulata (a.k.a. the mandarin orange) and citrus ichangensis (a.k.a. the ichang papeda). as you can no doubt tell by their scientific names, both the mandarin orange and the ichang papeda are true citrus fruits, making the yuzu a citrus fruit by association.
i don’t think i am wrong in assuming that most of us have had a mandarin orange before. they have all kinds of types, including clementines (popular among vitamin c deprived chidlren in the states because of their general seedlessness and delicious sweet flavor) and mikans (a staple dessert in japanese school lunches). mandarin oranges are often used as is in light foods, such as fruit salads and deserts. in the united states, they can be found in a can in almost every grocery store nationwide.
the ichang papeda is somewhat less ubiquitous. it was supposedly cultivated on the chinese mainland, most likely close to the town of ichang (hence its name). it is a small dense tree which produces fruit similar in size and shape to the kaffir lime. because the rind of the fruit is thick and the juice is super bitter, it was grown mostly as an ornamental and aromatic tree. the ichang papeda is particularly special (and important to the genetic makeup of the yuzu) because it is one of the most resiliant varieties of true citrus. it can withstand light frost, heavy humidity, and intense rains. in other words, it is a citrus fruit perfectly suited for cultivation in eastern asia.
when the mandarin orange and ichang papeda were mixed, the result was the yuzu (a.k.a. the japanese citron). it begins as a small, round green fruit. as it ripens, it begins to grow in size and yellow in color. when fully ripe, it has a rough, knobby texture to its rind which is altogether different from the smoothness of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits. the yuzu takes after its parent, the ichang papeda, in that the fruit can’t really be eaten. when split open, it has all kinds of seeds and barely any edible flesh to be salvaged.
instead, it is prized for its juice and rind. when minced, ground, or grated, the natural oils of the yuzu smell incredible. it is used in making pickles, hot pots, tea, and sweets, and even infused soy sauces like ponzu. japanese people also love to use yuzu for things that have nothing to do with cooking, such as yuzuburo (splitting open a bunch of yuzu and throwing them in the tub before taking a bath). it makes your skin feel awesome and makes you smell great.
i was lucky this last weekend. i managed to drink, chat, and harvest sweet potatoes with a group of farmers who, unbeknownst to me at the time i was harvesting, also had a fair number of yuzu trees. when we came back with the huge wheelbarrow full of fifty kilograms of sweet potatoes, they had already finished grabbing some ripe yuzu off of their trees for us to take home.
naturally, being a yuzu lover and general nerd about the horticulture of japan, i pointed at the bags and shrieked in japanese “oh my god! are those yuzu?!” with all the fervor of a school girl who just saw justin bieber drinking coffee in a local dennys. they were both extremely amused by my reaction and impressed that i, as a foreigner, even know what the heck they were.
so they gave me a whole bag. i’m talking like fifty yuzu.
when we got home, my girlfriend and i immediately decided to come up with as many yuzu recipes as we could. we came up with plans for yuzu desserts, yuzu appetizers, yuzu hot pots, yuzu side dishes, yuzu beverages. you name it, it crossed our minds. what we finally settled on, however, was well worth the brainstorming.
spaghetti w/ spicy garlic yuzu sauce
- the rind of three or four medium-sized yuzu
- the juice of one medium-sized yuzu
- four cloves of garlic
- black pepper
- a pinch of habenero powder
- one or two african bird’s eye chilis (dried, seeded, and chopped)
- 100 ml of olive oil
- 200g of spaghetti
- five to six leaves of shiso
- unsalted butter
- get out a microplane or an oroshi board. wash the yuzu, but make sure not to squeeze them at all or you will use some of those precious oils. press the yuzu against the surface of your grinding mechanism and work the fruit in a circular motion. yuzu tend to have weird brown spots and iffy lookin areas when ripe, so do your best to avoid those parts of the rind. put the rind in a small mixing bowl.
- cut one of the flayed yuzu in half and squeeze all the juice you can into the mixing bowl. do you best to keep the seeds from falling in.
- peel and mince the garlic. try to mince it as finely as you possibly can. if you end up with chunks, don’t worry. the sauce is going to get blended in the end anyway.
- add your olive oil and stir the sauce for about thirty seconds to get all the flavors aquainted with one another.
- put in the black pepper, the pinch of habenero powder, and the chopped bird’s eye chilis. finally, add in the salt a little bit at a time, tasting as you go. remember, this isn’t is a salty sauce, it should mostly taste spicy, sour, and a little bit bitter (because of the rind). the salt is just to balance the flavors.
- add water to a pot and stir in some salt. heat the water over high heat until it reaches a rolling boil. add in the spaghetti, cover the pot, and take the heat down to medium or medium-low.
- use a food processor or blending wand to puree everything together. make sure to check the texture of the sauce. if it is too thin, try to add a little bit more garlic or yuzu rind. if it is too thick, add a little bit more yuzu juice. the sauce should end up almost the exact same thickness as pesto.
- if it has been around six or seven minutes, check your pasta. it should be almost done. remember, don’t overcook it or you will end up with a mushy mess when you try to stir in the sauce. the goal here is a perfect al dente.
- drain the pasta and put it back in the pot. toss in just enough unsalted butter to keep the pasta from sticking together. pour in your sauce and give the whole pot a gentle stir with a pair of chopsticks or a wooden spoon.
- once the pasta is evenly coated, feel free to plate it.
- last, cut the stems off your shiso, stack the leaves, and fold them over twice. use a very sharp knife to cut the leaves into ribbons. garnish your pasta with a three-fingered pinch.
- revel in the glorious aroma that is yuzu. feast until you can’t feast any more.
note: this recipe is made to be served with a meat of your choice. i tend to go with any of meat which has juices that can meld with the flavors of the pasta works well. suggestions: rare to medium rare steak, roast chicken legs (with the skin on), stuffed baked chicken breasts.
frosted yuzu muffins
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 3/4 cup flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 medium-sized yuzu
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup yogurt (plain is best)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
for the glaze:
- powdered sugar
- the juice of one medium-sized yuzu
- get the butter to room temperature (or just warm enough that it becomes pliable). add it to a large mixing bowl and combine it with the sugar and eggs.
- use an oroshi board or a microplane to zest the yuzu. ripe yuzu has a tendency to have strange brown splotches, so do your best to avoid those. set the fruit aside, you’ll use it for its juice later.
- combine flour, baking soda, yuzu zest and salt in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
- add the dry ingredients to the large bowl containing the wet mixture a little bit at a time.
- remember those rindless yuzu you set aside? juice them into a small cup and discard whatever seeds happen to fall out. once you have that magical juice, add it to the bowl with everything else. give everything a good stir with a rubber scraper or a wooden spoon.
- finally, add the yogurt and the vanilla. stir everything together to get all those awesome flavors acquainted with each other.
- ready some non-stick muffin tin (or use a little bit of vegetable oil to grease whatever regular muffin tins you have on hand) and spoon in enough of the batter to fill half of each cup. remember, don’t overfill the muffin tins. they’ll rise in the oven.
- bake the muffins at 177ºc (350ºf) for 20 minutes.
- once finished, let the muffins cool completely before you remove them from the tins and begin glazing. garnish with a tiny curl of yuzu rind or any leftover zest you have on hand.
to make the glaze:
- juice one yuzu into a cup and remove whatever seeds happen to fall out in the process.
- gradually add powdered sugar while stirring until the icing reaches the desired consistency. the icing should be just thin enough that it runs slowly.