Winter Zest: Japanese Yuzu

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It is tōji; the shortest day of the year. The sun, which has brought a comforting warmth to the day, sinks below the horizon heralding crisp, biting air and hasty darkness. Steam rises from a cyprus-wood tub, and with it a comforting, citrus scent. Bobbing in the soothingly warm water are dimpled golden fruits, a visual hybrid of an orange and a grapefruit. These zesty orbs, with high concentrations of vitamin C and an oily component consisting of nomilin, are there to guard against colds in the long winter ahead, to treat irritated skin, and to aid circulation while promoting comfort and relaxation. Since the 18th century, the solstice yuzuburo, a bath with the winter citrus fruit yuzu, has been a favourite tradition with Japanese families.

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Yuzu is a rare citrus which can grow in regions with winter temperatures as low as -9C, and it fruits in Japan at the beginning of winter. Introduced to the country from China in the 8th century, its seeds have traditionally been used in medicines to treat skin irritations. In culinary terms, lacking in juice and pulp, it is its zest which is employed most. It has a strong, aromatic flavour which is instantly recognisable, and not always popular amongst Japanese children, becoming an acquired taste in later years. It is combined with mirin (rice wine), vinegar, katsuobushi (fish flakes) and kombu (seaweed) to make the dipping sauce ponzu, or with chilli peppers and salt to produce the condiment yuzu kosho. It is added to honey as a sweetener for tea, distilled into vinegar or the liquor yuzukomachi, and used to add a spark to drinks such as non-alcoholic cider. A single shaving of zest atop a piece of sashimi can add a pleasant zing. Chefs in Japan today use it playfully, drawing on its seasonal associations with winter.

In the last 10 years or so, the west have grown familiar with this east Asian taste explosion, although it can be difficult to obtain the fresh fruit and users often make do with bottled yuzu juice. Chefs have employed its powerful citrus bite, adding it to seafood dressings, mayonnaise, fish marinades, custards, jellies, panna cotta and pavlovas. There are several examples of celebrity chefs experimenting with the fruit in their recipes, from Jamie Oliver’s Asian seafood salad with yuzu and sesame dressing and Heston Blumenthal’s yuzu remoulade with barbecued pork chops to James Martin’s deep fried squid with yuzu mayonnaise.  Meanwhile, mixologists use it to give a flavour kick to their cocktails and several craft breweries, including Iki in the Netherlands and Garage Project in New Zealand, have added it as a citrus element in their beers.
March 2nd 2017

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Devonshire Cream Tea: Red Fox Vintage, Launceston Tasmania

 

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1000 years ago, in Tavistock, Devon, the monks of the Benedictine abbey fed labourers working there with bread, clotted cream and fruit preserves. Hundreds of years later, a variation of the dish, with scones replacing bread, was being served to the early tourists of the day who flocked to the region for its beaches and stunning coastline, and the tradition remains strong to this day. The popular dish causes extreme regional rivalry between neighbouring counties. Cornwall gained a PDO (protected designation of origin) for one of the central ingredients, their treasured clotted cream, while the dish itself is firmly established as the ‘Devonshire’ cream tea. The regional disharmony extends to how the dish should be eaten; in Cornwall the halved scone should be spread with jam (always strawberry) first and topped with cream, in Devon this order is reversed. Cream tea etiquette extends to the essential nature of clotted cream, not whipped, the type of scones, the flavour of preserve and whether the tea or the milk should be added to the cup first. In spite of these strictures, the dish spread internationally and can be commonly found in ex-colonies such as Australia and New Zealand, often with variations which would undoubtedly appal the Cornish and Devonians.

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Launceston in Tasmania was named by the British authorities in the early 19th century in honour of the Governor of New South Wales of the time, who had been born in Launceston, Cornwall. With such a namesake, it would seem natural that Launceston, sitting upon the Tamar River, should be a provider of a quality cream tea. Several venues offer the dish but the place to go is Red Fox Vintage. An unassuming shop with a view of City Park, Red Fox is delightfully crammed with antique furniture, lamps, crockery & cutlery, tableware & kitchenware, clothing, accessories, and secondhand books. Chairs have been placed around the only four available horizontal surfaces and, amidst the sounds of cool jazz and lounge music, the proprietors, Sonja and Tanya, serve delicious homemade cakes and soup, teas, coffees and soft drinks. Their cream tea is a generous serving of two scones with plenty of jam and sumptuous cream, with a hot drink of your choice, all for $10. Even if you choose to replace the tea with coffee or hot chocolate, and regardless of whether it’s your cream or jam sitting atop your scone, you can sit back and relax in the surroundings of yesteryear and savour a long-enjoyed tradition.

 

7th February 2017

Red Fox Vintage, 66 Tamar Street, Launceston, Tasmania
Open Wed to Fri 10am-3pm, Sat 10am-2pm