Yuzu is a Japanese citrus, the size of a large lime but bright yellow in skin in the winter or green in the summer. Originating in East Asia, it has knobbly skin and looks a bit like a cross between kaffir lime and lemon. Yuzu is highly aromatic, and its rind is often used to flavour dishes in kaiseki. Yuzu is being exported to Europe know from Japan, mainly France, and is becoming the ingredient du jour in many eateries all over the world.
Yuzu is very difficult to grow. 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 stubborn, stupid yuzu takes 13 years…” In other words, you need to be patient…
Though most yuzu trees are grafted onto other citrus, and there are a number of successful commercial growers now (in 2018) who make beautiful yuzu. We get ours from Mountain Yuzu.
We used to get our yuzu from Japanese friend who patiently waited 18 years for their yuzu trees to fruit in Sydney. We have a small yuzu plant, but not sure if we can wait that long…..plus, it has very long, scary looking thorns.
Yuzu is quintessentially autumn and winter and is used in so many dishes–from squeezing a little juice on matsutake, that other quintessential autumnal offering, to floating aroma inducing rinds in osuimono or soups. In the warmer months, we use green yuzu. We use hollowed out yuzu as a cup, filling it with vegetables or sashimi. 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 way to infuse your cooking with the yuzu aroma 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–use it on your next barbecue. Kei likes to eat her wagyu steak with a little yuzu and a drizzle of soy sauce instead of mustard.
When we were kids, we used to sit in the bath with some yuzu floating in the bathwater–I think it made us smell nice and clean and the citrus oil did actually clean us. Yuzu bath salts are available in may shops in Japan, as well as online shop Rakuten.
by Masako Fukui, Copyright Kei’s Kitchen