My friend, Carlos, is the chef and co-owner of one of my favorite little beach restaurants, and he makes this really lovely arugula-beet salad with a goat-cheese vinaigrette. One day, last August, I texted him, desperate to nail one or two elusive ingredients in the dressing for that salad. I was trying to replicate it at home, and couldn't figure out what made the dressing so perfect.
Me: I'm trying to make the dressing you use on your arugula-beet-corn salad, and it's not quite right. What am I missing?
He texted back: Guess.
Me: Champagne vinegar.
Me: Rice wine vinegar?
Me: Lemon juice? Lime juice? Grapefruit extract?
Me: Fairy wings and butt cheese? I GIVE UP.
Him: Jajajajajajajaaaaa! (he's from Argentina, and that's "ha ha ha" even though I still read it with a German accent in my mind, because, you know, Germany, Argentina, SAME THING.)
Me: Seriously. TELL ME. I BEG YOU.
Him: Yuzu juice.
Me: GET OUT.
Me: No really, don't get out. But really? Yuzu juice?
Him: Yes. Yuzu juice.
I got some yuzu juice (it's kinda expensive, so I used it sparingly), made that dressing, and was a very happy camper.
The first time I went to Per Se, I got a tour of the kitchen. I salivated over their produce storage area and got to see, smell, and hold a yuzu for the very first time. Epicurious says that yuzu is a sour Japanese citrus (true), used almost exclusively for its aromatic rind. Um, really? No mention of the juice, there, Epicurious? That's not very curious of you. Or epi. Or WHATEVER.
A yuzu is shaped like a tangerine, the color of a lemon, and tastes a little like a lime, only more sour. Actually, probably a lot more sour than a lime, because I don't think limes are really all that sour. But you know how limes have that smoother nose-feel than lemons do? That's why I guess I think that limes and yuzu are similar. Yuzu doesn't make me think of the acid level burning the enamel off my teeth like a lemon does. Yuzu is sharp, but smooth. If only fresh yuzu were at all easy to come by, I'd love to squeeze one over a steaming hot plate of Pad Thai. I bet that'd be otherwordly.
But this post is not about Carlos, Per Se, or Pad Thai.
It's about yuzu.
And, about splattering it on one's clothing when tape does not do its job.
And substituting sesame leaves for micro shiso.
And watching my neighbor's eyes grow wide as I sprinkle (generously) what she thinks is black pepper, but is actually black sesame seed powder.
And making something that is so tasty, I almost forgot I was in a food funk for nearly a month.
Let's get to it.
Because it took the longest to make, time-wise, I started with the Yuzu Powder element of this dish. Here's a great example of how I knew the good juju was smacking down my bad cooking mojo: I needed 125g of eggs to make the yuzu powder. I choose two eggs from the carton, knowing I'd need one, for sure, and most (if not all) of the second. I cracked them into the bowl, one at a time, and ka-blam:
One gram short? WHO CARES.
I put the eggs and some tapioca maltodextrin into my Kitchen Aid mixer and put it on medium speed (somewhere between 5 and 6) for about 4 minutes. The book says to let it get to "ribbon stage" so I took that to mean it's ready when it's thickened, and looks like cake batter does when you pour it and it looks like wide cascading ribbons falling onto one another:
I removed the bowl from the mixer stand and folded in the yuzu juice with a spatula:
Now, here's the tricky part. The book suggests that you'll need to use an offset spatula to spread the yuzu-egg-tapioca maltodextrin mixture onto food-grade acetate before putting it into the dehydrator. After adding the yuzu juice, it was really pretty liquidy, so I didn't need to spread it, necessarily... but I did use it to even things out a bit. Into the dehydrator (on 150F degrees) for 4 hours.
The book suggested it might take up to 6 hours to get crispy, but at 4 hours, it was flaking off the edges, and crackling off the sheet when I folded it, so I knew it was done:
While the yuzu powder was dehydrating, I made the Pine Yogurt. This was so difficult. NOT. (I know, it's not 1992) I put a few drops of pine extract into a small bowl of Greek yogurt, then stirred to mix, and stored it in a squeeze bottle in the fridge.
I knew I was tempting fate, completing that Herculean feat and moving right into something equally as challenging: toasting black sesame seeds for a minute, then pulverizing them in my spice grinder until they became a fine powder:
With that incredibly complicated step out of the way, I made the Yuzu Ice. I brought water and agar agar to a boil, then stirred in sugar and yuzu juice. I stirred it until the sugar had dissolved, then removed it from the burner and poured the liquid into a bowl nestled into a bowl of ice, so it could cool and set (which took 45 minutes):
I scooped out the now-set yuzu-sugar-agar agar-water mixture and schwinged it in my NEW, TOTALLY AWESOME, OH-HOW-MY-LIFE-HAS-CHANGED-SINCE-I-DUMPED-MY-GHETTO-BLENDER-FROM-1991-AND-BOUGHT-A-NEW-ONE-THIS-WEEK-WITH-A-GIFT-CARD-FROM-MY-PARENTS-THANKS-MOM-AND-DAD-YOU-ARE-SO-AWESOME blender.
In my old blender, it would've taken twenty-seven kabillion minutes to get to that level of smoothness. I would have had to stop eight hundred times to agitate it and move all the contents around with a spoon to get it to puree. With this blender? Fifteen seconds. No shit. WHAT WAS I WAITING FOR!?!?!?
I smoothed the puree onto 3x9" strips of food-grade acetate (from the Little Bitts shop in Wheaton, MD), spread it thin with an offset spatula, then pulled a pastry comb (also from Little Bitts) across the top to create channels in each strip:
Now, here's a little something I teased in the beginning of this post. The book shows how you bend and curl each acetate strip to create a curl that, when frozen, will result in a really beautiful twist of yuzu ice. The book's instructions say to use masking tape to affix the strips to a baking sheet. I did that, and the baking sheet pretty much laughed its ass off at me and didn't even stick for a second.
I tried with duct tape. No go.
Then, I tried with duct tape holding it from the bottom, and freezer tape over the top to hold the strips down from that angle:
Um, yeah. After about eight seconds, here's what happened with that plan:
SPROING! And, yuzu glop all over my shirt and glasses:
So, I decided to just keep the strips flat and opt for getting the flavor right, not so much the exact look:
(The weird spots you see along those strips are bits of yuzu that got underneath the acetate strips. They were all quite lovely and uniformly stripey once frozen)
It took about 30 minutes for them to freeze solid, and once that happened, I julienned a few sesame leaves (couldn't find micro shiso anywhere), got the pine yogurt out of the fridge, pinched the yuzu powder flakes to make them more powdery, and got the black sesame seed powder all ready to go.
I scraped the frozen yuzu ice off the sheets and into a cold highball glass, then sprinkled some sesame powder, sesame leaves, and yuzu powder into the glass, along with a few squirts of pine yogurt. Wanna see?
I called my neighbor friends, Sean and Linda, to come over (their kids stayed home to finish homework), and we smushed it all around a bit with our spoons, and then took a bite.
Tangy, sweet, sour, nutty.... delicious. I love what the Greek yogurt does with this dish. The yuzu is cold and soothing and really nice, and then the yogurt brightens it, but also gives it some heft. Not much, but enough to make it feel like there's something substantial on your spoon. The black sesame powder was a nice surprise, and I'm glad there's a lot left over. Gotta figure out how else I'd use that stuff. The sesame leaves added nice flavor, as well.
This dish wasn't a ton of work -- more waiting time than anything -- and I wish I'd been able to get those dang acetate strips to stay curled on the baking sheet to freeze in a bit of a curl. But, all in all, this was a really nice, fragrant, and flavorful two bites. I only wish yuzu juice wasn't so pricey. I'd use it all the time.
Up Next: Maytag blue, grape, walnut, port
Resources: Agar agar and tapioca maltodextrin from L'Epicerie; yuzu juice from Earthy.com; Fage Greek yogurt; scotch pine oil from Terra Spice; eggs from Smith Meadow Farm; black sesame seeds and fresh sesame leaves from HMart in Wheaton, MD; Domino sugar.
Music to Cook By: Great Northern; Trading Twilight for Daylight. There's tension, there's beat, there's a lyrical shine, there's haze, there's a mellowness... all in all, a fantastic album to have on while you're puttering away in the kitchen. It's great background noise, and every now and then, a lyric or guitar riff will prick your ears and bring you back to earth. Love it.
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