Rolling out a fresh face in fruit choices

Citrus hybrid yuzu finds its way into numerous cuisines

October 15, 2003|By Adrienne Saunders | Adrienne Saunders,SUN STAFF

Chic hybrid" no longer refers just to eco-friendly cars. Yuzu, a citrus hybrid from Japan, is now appearing on the "it" list for modern cuisine as restaurants across the region incorporate the prized produce into their menus in imaginative ways.

Yuzu earned its place among hot food trends when it appeared a few years ago on the menu at Nobu in New York and Wolfgang Puck's Chinois restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif. Now, the unique flavor of the golf-ball-sized globe is infused into sake and used as a scent in several lines of beauty products, including a bath oil from Shu Uemura and a complete spa product line from Archipelago Botanicals.

Although an Asian ingredient, yuzu is used in many cuisines. The tart juice, which has a potent combination of lime, lemon and tangerine flavors with a pine aftertaste, can be used in any dish that calls for citrus for an interesting new flavor, said Alison Chase, chef and co-owner of Aqua Terra in Annapolis.

"It's fun to play with," Chase said. "It has acidity and sweetness. ... I personally like it with fish."

Most local restaurants use only the juice in their creations, such as the yuzu beurre blanc served at Baltimore's Eurasian Harbor by executive chef Jason Hancock.

Hancock said he first heard of yuzu in a cookbook by Nobu's chef, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, and has been using the juice for about two years.

Yuzu's complex flavor and aroma make it ideal for crossing borders between cuisines, he said. "You could use it in French applications or Southwestern."

In Asia, yuzu is often used for medicinal purposes. Traditional practices include floating the fresh fruit in a bath to encourage good health for the new year and adding it to honey to soothe sore throats.

Its culinary uses in this country vary. Dara Bunjon, a spokeswoman for Vanns Spices in Baltimore, said she has found yuzu marketed as bottled juice, freeze-dried peel and a powder. The fresh fruit is also available, but harder to find. "It's prized for its rind because it's so aromatic," Bunjon said.

Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia uses the fresh fruit liberally. Its juice is squeezed into a vinaigrette served on a sashimi salad and in a yuzu sorbet infused with wasabi. Fresh yuzu rind is grated at the table over miso soup with clams, bringing out the flavor and aroma of the dish.

Jamie Blackwell, head of training at Morimoto, said presentation of the fruit at the table gives diners something tangible to identify with the distinctive flavor. Blackwell estimated that the restaurant uses six fresh yuzu per night in table-side presentations and considerably more in preparing other dishes.

Baltimore's Asian hot spots rarely feature fresh yuzu, however. Cost is one factor. "It's very expensive," Bunjon said.

Because of trade restrictions, Bunjon said, fresh yuzu cannot be imported from Hawaii or Japan, so domestic growers have materialized to service the competitive restaurant industry.

An Eastern Shore purveyor, Suzuki Farm in Parsonsburg, grows yuzu along with other rare Japanese produce.

Owner Ken Suzuki sells fresh yuzu to Morimoto and to Sushi Taro in Washington, D.C., for about $1.80 per fruit. Green yuzus are available beginning in August, and by October, the fruit has turned yellow. Suzuki said his clients prefer the yellow color, although its flavor does not change dramatically.

Suzuki will ship the fresh fruit on request, but visitors are also welcome to the farm to browse his selection of Japanese produce, he said.

While the fresh fruit is available only until December, the juice is available year-round. Vanns sells a couple of cases a month to restaurants nationwide. Barrett Berman, an Asian specialty foods buyer for Belair Produce in Hanover, said he sells a couple of 5.06-ounce bottles a month at $9.50 apiece.

Chase said yuzu is new to many of her diners at Aqua Terra, so she takes care in presenting it. "People tend to be a little gun-shy ... so I try to use it on specials when the server can spend time explaining the ingredient, so people aren't intimidated by it," said the chef, who melted yuzu butter on veal chops in a recent special.

Ten Penh in Washington, D.C., uses the bottled yuzu juice in the vinaigrette on its Ten Penh salad. Chef de cuisine Cliff Wharton said his customers appreciate the interesting flavor of yuzu, and he is working on a new creation that pairs yuzu juice with salmon so they can see more of it.

"Just talking about the yuzu makes me start thinking," Wharton said.

Where to buy

Yuzu:

Suzuki Farm

31861 Fred Adkins Road

Parsonsburg, MD 21849 410-860-2697

Yuzu juice:

Belair Produce

7226 Parkway Drive

Hanover, MD 21076

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