Ponzu Scheme

February 16, 2012

Tradition is the illusion of permanence.
~Woody Allen

Centuries old, yet rarely recognized east of Honshu until just a couple of decades ago, ponzu has experienced a spirited culinary birth and finally flourishes in the West. Was about time for a break from the usual food-ethnocentricity, self-adulation.

Ponzu (ポン酢?) is traditionally made by heating mirin, rice vinegar, bonito flakes, and konbu (dried kelp). Some chefs substitute dashi (a light fish stock) for the bonito flakes. The simmering liquid is cooled and strained to remove the solids and then citrus fruit juice is added for tartness. In Japan, ponzu is customarily made with an obscure citrus fruit called yuzu, but cooks here have substituted lemon, lime, orange and/or grapefruit juices to create a rough equivalent.

At once subtly sweet, sour, tart, tangy and salty…ponzu is commonly served as a sauce with tataki, nabemono, sashimi or even sushi, but is also for dipping with or drizzled over rice, noodles, tempura, greens, vegetables, spring rolls, shellfish and grilled, seared or sautéed meats, poultry and fish. Adding fine soy sauce creates the ubiquitous Japanese condiment, ponzu-shoyu.

Befitting its versatility, ponzu has a West meets East etymology, deriving from the Dutch ponsen (citrus punch) and Japanese su (vinegar), and so the name loosely means “citrus punch vinegar.” (Nagasaki roots?)

BASIC PONZU SHOYU

3/4 C mirin
1/2 C aged, unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 C bonito flakes
1 T honey
3″ piece of konbu

1 C shoyu
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T fresh orange juice
1 T fresh lime juice
1 T fresh grapefruit juice

Wipe the konbu with a damp cloth to remove most of the powdery white coating. Combine the mirin, wine vinegar, bonito flakes, honey and konbu in a small saucepan and bring just to a gentle simmer over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the stove and allow to cool completely.

Pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and discard the solids. Whisk in the shoyu and citrus juices. Tweak the citrus ratios to suit your tastes. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight, so the flavors meld. Just before using, taste and consider adding a small squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice or some shoyu.

SESAME PONZU VINAIGRETTE

1 1/2″ piece daikon, grated

1/2 C ponzu
2 T sesame oil
1 T white sesame seeds
1/2 T ginger, grated
1/2 t sea salt
1 green onion, chopped

Using a cheesecloth, squeeze the liquid out of the grated daikon. Combine the remaining flesh with the remaining ingredients, and whisk together in a bowl.

PONZU DIJON VINAIGRETTE

3 shallots, peeled and minced
3 T Dijon mustard
1 plump fresh garlic clove, peeled and smashed
2 T ginger, peeled and minced

1 C ponzu
2 T sugar
1/2 C shiro shoyu

2 C grapeseed or canola oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together shallots, mustard, garlic and ginger in a medium glass bowl. In a smaller bowl, dissolve sugar into ponzu and shoyu and then whisk into the mustard mixture. Whisk in grapeseed oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pourboire: in the interest of brevity, you may simply create ponzu shoyu by mixing fine unfiltered bottled Japanese ponzu with really good shoyu in a ratio to suit your liking.

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