Yuzu is the unforgettably aromatic citrus whose zest is a siren call to anyone who loves to eat. Or drink. Or just smell the world. Whether immature and green, or ripe and golden, this citrus is addictively delicious. The fruit’s season begins in early fall and extends through mid-winter. You can grow your own, or buy them. And preserving your precious crop (or purchase) is half the fun.
Photography by Marie Viljoen.
The perfume of yuzu is very different from lemon. Ripe yuzu is floral and spicy. It’s hard not to smile when you sniff it. The thick skin and aromatic pith make the fruit look slightly rumpled in cross-section, as though a clementine has lost weight inside its jacket and wants to shrug it off.
When unripe and green, the zest is piercing and more herbal. Immature, rock-hard green yuzu come to market around early fall, depending on where they are grown. Their penetratingly-scented green rind is an essential ingredient in yuzu kosho, an aromatic fermented relish made with hot chiles.
Inside the cut fruit, you will find many (many) large seeds and not too much juice. But it’s the thick skin and pith that are needed to make dramatically fragrant yuja-cheong (transliterated Korean for yuzu marmalade), made by combining fresh yuzu slices with sugar (find our recipe here). Spoonfuls of yuja-cheong are stirred into boiling water for therapeutic tea (yuja-cha), where the slices can be eaten after the liquid has all been sipped. It is also delightful shaken into a cocktail, or stirred into chilled water, for an uplifting celebration.
For gardeners, yuzu trees can be grown in pots or in-ground. As October cools, my own tree is about to yield a small crop of ripe yellow fruit, with a second flush to follow. Citrus junos is one of the hardiest of the citrus trees and is able to tolerate freezes in USDA Zone 8. Any colder and you should overwinter it indoors. Yuzu trees from Four Winds Growers are grafted onto dwarf rootstock, which makes them ideal for containers.
Because commercial citrus production is vulnerable (like any monoculture) to pests and diseases, imported yuzu are not currently allowed into the US. But thanks to an increasing number of growers Stateside, fresh fruit is available for a brief season either directly from those growers, online via a vendor, or even at some supermarkets, like Whole Foods. Start looking for them in October, when they will still be green. Ripe fruit tend to be available from December.
From their New Jersey-grown trees, Flavors by Bhumi ship their impeccable yuzu in season. Pearson Ranch in California is a reliable source (though less well packed, and a tad less impeccable, too, at least in my experience). Regional outposts of some supermarkets sometimes stock yuzu for a few exciting weeks in fall, when the fruit is green, and in the winter, when ripe, sometimes for curiously low prices. Prowl the winter aisles of Whole Foods, if you live near one ($3.99/lb is impossible to beat).
There is yuja-cheong, there is cooked marmalade, there is salt-preserving. But another way to preserve a precious batch of ripe yuzu is to make yubeshi. This traditional Japanese sweet-and-savory confection is created by stuffing the hollowed-out, steamed skins with a mixture of sweetened miso and nuts before each fruit is wrapped and cured by air-drying. Once dry, yubeshi is eaten sliced thinly. It is intense, salty, sweet. You may love it or recoil. But take a second bite and think it over. It is beguiling.
I like to serve yubeshi very untraditionally with cheeses and membrillo (quince paste). But a slice with a steaming cup of black tea is a tonic.
For about 12 yuzu
Yubeshi methods vary, using different types of miso, sweetening, and nuts. I like the bold, very distinctive flavor of chestnut honey, which offers a counterweight to yellow miso in this version. It is based very closely on the recipe generously provided by Prairie Stuart-Wolff, of Mirukashi Salon (Prairie uses sugar, not honey; two kinds of miso, and pine nuts or walnuts).
- 12 ripe yuzu
- 4 Tablespoons yuzu juice
- 14 oz yellow miso
- 3.5 oz chestnut honey
- 1/3 cup broken walnuts
Wash the yuzu well, and slice off their tops. Scoop out their seeds and pulp into a strainer set over a bowl. Press to extract as much juice as possible. Measure out 4 Tablespoons (save extra for drinks or dressings, or to add to soy sauce).
In a pot, combine the miso, yuzu juice, and honey. Heat gently over med-low heat, stirring constantly, for about 15 minutes.
Remove the mixture from the heat and add the walnuts. Stir well. Fill the empty yuzu shells about three-quarters with the miso mixture. Replace their lids.
When all the yuzu are stuffed, transfer to a steamer basket set over boiling water and steam gently until the yuzu shells are soft (about 25 minutes).
Cut squares of double cheese cloth or old (clean!) linen napkins that will fit around each fruit. Place a yuzu in the center of each square, bring up the corners, and tie with string. Set outside on dry days to cure for about six weeks.*
* I cure my yubeshi outdoors for just one week, then hang them, like hoshigaki, from the ceiling. This worked really well and is a practical option if you don’t have outdoor space. My very last yubeshi was unwrapped 10 months after that initial cure, and still tasted excellent.
When cured their color is dark, varying from caramel to brown, and they have dried considerably. Slice thinly, and serve!
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