Sunday, January 29, 2012

Yuzu Dinner at Home

Our friends and good neighbor bryan and henrietta went to Osaka during Chinese New Year holidays and brought us something - including a pair of fresh Japanese yuzu. We probably all had a good share of yuzu-flavored food or drinks in the past, but surprisingly, fresh yuzus are hard to come by outside of Japan for whatever reasons. Anyway, I was so excited getting this wonderful gift that I immediately planned a yuzu-themed dinner for the weekend so I can play with them.

Yuzu - it's not the juiciest fruit as you can see, but most ppl use only its zest anyway
It's really hard to describe the mystique of the yuzu aroma, but it's just with this enticing aromatic refreshness and you just can't replace with other citrus fruit such as lemon, lime or tangerine (even though normally these are what I would use as substitutes) Yuzu, with its fragrant zest, and sharply acidic juices, typically went well with lighter-flavored food - particularly fish and shitake or matsutake mushrooms - but since I am going to do the whole dinner with yuzu, I experimented a little bit to try a few different things and see how those dishes would turn out.

Squid in Yuzu Miso Sauce
We started the evening with a amuse bouche (or sakizuke先付) of squid in yuzu-miso. The squid tentacles are cleaned, blanched quickly in boiling water and set aside in small dishes. I followed roughly the Nobu recipe for miso glaze (mirin, sake, shiromiso plus plenty of sugar), with the addition of yuzu zest and juice, and pour onto the squid. I used my cooking torch to burn the squid and miso a little bit to give a roasted flavor to the dish.

Mortar and Pestle: Yuzu Kosho Paste
The first course is seared scallops in yuzu-kosho. Yuzu Kosho is a paste made from chili peppers and yuzu zest. Most people probably saw the ready-made version of that in supermarkets but of course, in this case I was trying to make one from scratch. Using approximately one part yuzu zest to three part finely-sliced chili peppers, they were grinded together with a dash of sea salt, vegetable oil and yuzu juice until it became a paste-like texture.

Seared scallops with Yuzu Kosho
Scallops - I used the frozen Hokkaido sashmi-grade ones - were seasoned with Japanese chili powder (shichimi togarashi 七味唐辛子) and seared in red-hot cast-iron pan. Since my version of yuzu kosho was really spicy, I only used a small dollop and with additional yuzu zest sprinkled on top of the scallops just before it's served. You may think the yuzu flavor would be buried by the red hot chili peppers, but no, it came right through amazingly and gave the dish a refreshing dimension with its acidity take some of the kick out of the chili. I just wished I could get hold of better, bigger scallops as the ones I used became pathetically small when cooked.

Chawanmushi - Steamed eggs in a tea cup with salmon roes and yuzu zest
Out of the many ways to cook eggs, steaming is probably one of them I never quite managed to do well. Nonetheless I made a chawanmushi (which literally means steamed eggs in a tea cup) as my next course. Dashi broth was prepared in advance with kombu and katsuobushi shavings, and mixed with mirin, light soy sauce (I used the one used as dipping sauce for soba noodles) and "carefully" beaten eggs to avoid any bubbles form on the surface. To serve 4 people, I used 3 eggs plus a cup of broth - which unfortunately turned out to be one egg too many.

Kamaboko - Japanese fish cake. I used the red version in celebration of Chinese New Year
Normally chawanmushi recipe called for many ingredients such as shitake mushrooms, chicken, or shrimp, but since I just meant to showcase the yuzu zest with the egg custard, I only used gingko and a small slice of kamaboko (Japanese fish cake). Put everything in a small cup, topped with a piece of shiso leave and steamed for approximately 15-20 minutes or until it is set. Before served, the dish was garnished with salmon roes and yuzu zest on top. Well, as I said, I probably put one egg too many so it came out not as runny as I expected, but luckily it's still one of the better steamed eggs I made with not too many bubbles on top and good, somewhat complex flavors. The salty umami taste of salmon roes went well with the yuzu and shiso aromas and the slight hint of acidity coming from the yuzu juice.

Sake-poached Sea Bass in Dashi-Ponzu Broth
When I saw this piece of chilean sea bass fillet at Citysuper on Friday, I knew I have to get it for our main dish of the night. Yes, I know, it's not the most sustainable fish species on earth, yaddi yadda... but I just have this thing about sea bass that when I saw it, I am compelled to buy. It's such a versatile fish full of fatty flavors and firm texture - maybe that's the reason why it's been over-consumed by everyone.

Anyway, the dish is my loose interpretation of the futamono (蓋物) course in a typical Kaiseki cuisine - literally it meant the course in lidded bowl and it's usually a hearty soup - but I treated it as a main course and served on a dish, without a lid. Using the same dashi broth that I made for the chawanmushi as the soup base, I further reduced it for stronger flavor, add in sliced pieces of daikon (Japanese radish), soy sauce and plenty of yuzu juice and zest - the broth/sauce is usually called ponzu. I also cut up a square piece of daikon for each person and simmer them in the liquid until it's softened and turned into clearer color.

The sea bass was slightly seasoned with salt and a brush of the shiromiso paste (since I already ade them I may as well use it again), then poached that in mirin and sake in the oven (190C) for 20 minutes. To assemble, I put the braised daikon in the middle of the a shallow soup dish, then the sea bass on top (with its skin slightly torched), and the broth was poured into the dish with additional yuzu zest sprinkled around.

Yuzu Panna Cotta with Yuzu Honey
When it came to dessert, common wisdom would call for a yuzu ice cream, which is by all means an ideal combination, but since I decided to do a more exotic ice cream flavor (as you will see later on), I did a panna cotta instead, and served with the yuzu honey that we brought from Japan a few months ago. Creamy, refreshing, and so easy to make (just the right amount of cream, sugar and gelatin - takes you 10 minutes to prepare max)

Shiromiso Icecream, Sesame Tuile, Peanuts and Sesame Powder, Yuzu Rice Crackers
We had an amazing dessert at The Principal last week and so I decided to copy their idea for my last course, and guess what, it's miso ice cream! It resembles the savory sweet flavor of salted caramel but with a distinctive umami hint from that of the white miso. I accidentally put too much miso paste in my custard so it turned out to be more on the salty side, but nonetheless it still works okay (I think) with the ultra-sweet sesame tuile (homemade), sesame peanut powder (roasted peanuts, white and black sesame grinded to coarse powder), and yuzu rice crackers (another gift from Japan).

Probably not the best dessert I have made (except it does look decent presentation wise), but those who have came to our place to eat knew that food experiment's always been part of the game. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't quite. Ha ha. I will slot this into "Work in Progress" category and will definitely try it a few more times to perfect the portion of ingredients.

Oh yes, we also enjoyed a great bottle of shumai daiginjo and probably too much chuhai - shochu cocktails with lime and calpis water. That capped our yuzu-themed, Japanese inspired kind of evening, and the end of the new year holidays. Now get over the holiday mood and back to work, I suppose.


Gregoire said...

Very nice! I love yuzu so much... I think yuzu has so much more character than other citrus fruits.
Very nice post! :)

gary s said...

me too! if only fresh yuzus are more readily available...