Get used to yuzu, the aromatic Asian fruit brightening dishes and drinks around town
WHAT IT IS:
While yuzu resembles a rather lumpy lemon or an off-colored orange, one whiff of the Asian fruit sets it apart from its citrus cousins. Ranking higher in terms of aroma and tartness than lemons or limes, yuzu is too potent to eat on its own, but its juice and zest deliver a unique flavor punch when added to sauces (most famously ponzu, a soy-based Japanese condiment used as a marinade or dipping sauce), both sweet and savory dishes, and cocktails. Grown primarily in Japan and China—as well as in a few orchards in California—the fresh fruit can be hard to find here, but that hasn’t stopped Charleston restaurants from serving up creative surprises with the pressed juice and dried zest, which can be purchased at specialty groceries like H&L Asian Market.
WHERE TO GET IT:
O-Ku (463 King St., http://o-kusushi.com/)
At this swanky sushi spot on King Street, chef Drew Souvanna adds the ingredient to a creamy soup with coconut milk, tender chicken, shiitake mushrooms, and lime zest. “The taste of yuzu is distinct, which makes it great for flavor-enhancing without altering the profile of food too much,” he notes. The aromatic fruit juice is also shaken into a “Yuzu Crazy” cocktail with Toki Japanese whiskey, amaro, aperol, and Angostura bitters. “It tastes like a combination of a lemon and an unripe grapefruit,” adds bar manager Allison Radecker, who lauds yuzu‘s ability to mix with a variety of spirits. “It definitely awakens the palate!”
Xiao Bao Biscuit (224 Rutledge Ave., http://xiaobaobiscuit.com/)
It’s no secret that this Asian-fusion hot spot has a thing for yuzu. Chef Josh Walker uses the fruit juice in several items at the restaurant, including a tempura-fried fish dish with squash glazed in a yuzu-brown butter mixture, a spring salad with a creamy yuzu dressing, and ponzu sauce. “The clear, strong flavor is something we love with our food,” Walker says. “Once you’ve had it, it’s easy to recognize. Yuzu is aromatic in the same way that Meyer lemons are, but in my opinion even more so—and it is less sweet and more tart than the lemons.” The pungent ingredient is also added to a hot sauce that’s used in bar manager Joey Ryan’s riff on a Bloody Mary, with green-tomato water and lemon.
Butcher & Bee (1085 Morrison Dr., https://butcherandbee.com/)
If you like piña coladas, chances are you’ll love the pairing of coconut and yuzu at this globally inspired eatery. “The citrus tones balance the richest, most decadent foods,” notes pastry chef Cynthia Wong, who combines yuzu juice with creamy coconut sherbet, then wraps it up in a chocolate-dipped waffle shell in her famous “choco tacos.” “It cuts right through the fattiness of dairy and coconut and stands up to the dark chocolate coating,” she explains. Wong is careful to use only high-quality products in her desserts, though, because “the less expensive yuzu juices on the market tend to be second or third pressings of the fruit, resulting in a bitter and dull taste.” She advises home cooks to avoid any juice that seems like a bargain.