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Japanese Foods: Yuzu

April, 2011 (updated April, 2013)

Yuzu is a Japanese citrus, the size of a small orange but bright yellow in skin in the winter or green in the summer. Originating in East Asia, it has knobbly skin and is a bit like a cross between kaffir lime and lemon, and is highly aromatic, with its rind used to flavour soups in kaiseki or noodles. Yuzu is being exported to Europe now from Japan, mainly France, and is becoming the ingredient du jour in many eateries all over the world.

Yuzu is very difficult to grow in Australia, although some people have succeeded in Sydney, and now quite a few non-commerically grown yuzu are beginning to hit the Japanese grocery stores. A few of our friends who have been patiently waiting for their yuzu trees to fruit have, after about 18 years, finally succeeded. There's an old Japanese saying; 桃栗3年、柿8年。柚子の大馬鹿13年 or "peaches and chestnuts 3 years, persimmons 8. But stubbon, stupid yuzu takes 13 years..." We have a small yuzu plant, but not sure if we can wait 13 plus years.....

Yuzu is quintessentially autumn and winter, and is used in so many dishes--from squeezing a little juice on matsutake, that other quintessential autumn offering, to floating aroma inducing rinds found in osuimono or soups. But yuzu is also delicious in noodles, on tofu, in ponzu for sashimi, diced and mixed into home made pickles, with furofuki daikon...it is the most economical of Japanese foods for so little of yuzu can transform a dish from ordinary to zingy and flavoursome and totally sophisticated. Such is the subtle power of yuzu.

For an alternative to fresh yuzu, there is yuzu juice available in most Japanese grocery stores now, though how much real yuzu juice is in these bottled versions is debatable. Another alternative is yuzu kosho 柚子こしょう which is literally "yuzu pepper", though it is really yuzu and chilli paste, and is sold in jars or in tubes. A little of the paste mixed into soy sauce gives white fish sashimi a terrific lift (try with whiting or snapper sashimi). It is also great as a marinade with soy sauce and oil and other citrus--use it on your next barbecue day.

When we were kids, we used to sit in the bath with some old used up yuzu floating in the bathwater--I think it made us smell nice and clean, and the citrus oil did actually clean us. Yuzu bathsalts are available in may shops in Japan, as well as online shop Rakuten.

by Masako Fukui, Copyright Kei's Kitchen

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