Cooking with Verjus, I
Growing up, I had neighbors with a grape arbor in their back yard, and I tasted the grapes at every conceivable stage of their development, from the time they were just little green suggestions to the point where they were pendulous bulbs of heady delicious juice swaying in the August breeze. I remember the fresh tart flavor of the green grapes just as well as when they were ripe, with equal delight, which was why, the first time I tasted verjus, I was transported barefoot to one of those dew drenched summer mornings when Clare and I wandered back through the gate to take an early taste from the vines.
When considering your seasonings, you might consider adding a bottle of verjus to your cooking rack. In just about every wine producing region in the world, vineyards are now producing their versions of it. Verjus is the juice of green grapes that are harvested and pressed before they are fully ripe. It has a nice tart flavor and can be used like vinegar or lemon juice in sauces and reductions, to add an element of clarity to your soups, in salad dressings or even stirred into a glass of iced water for a refreshing pick me up. Verjus was historically an important element in the production of mustard in Burgundy, so if you are cooking with mustard, you also might consider verjus to add a certain depth of flavor. It is not as acidic as vinegar or lemon juice, and tastes just like what it is, a mid-July grape.
If you haven't cooked with verjus before, the first thing to do is acquaint yourself with the flavor. Open the bottle and familiarize yourself with it before even thinking about recipes. Put a spoonful in a glass of plain water and enjoy its tonic, astringent qualities while you think of uses for it. Note the way it feels going down, and any memories it might invoke. Anyone who as a child foraged berries and fruits knows this flavor.
Historically, verjus was common in France up until in the 19th century, the phylloxera epidemic killed off the variety of grape that was used to produce it. Recently, a mustard producer in Beaune concerned with the authentic production of the historic sauces and condiments of Burgundy has re-introduced a variety of grape similar to the original for the purpose of producing verjus, and have returned the product to the market in this region. You can find it at the grocery store here in Lyon.
For the expats or visitors looking for verjus in the shops: In Lyon, I have found verjus at the LeaderPrice on the presque’ile in the 2nd arrondissment, But like brown sugar or certain kinds of flour, it’s a kind of hit or miss thing. They run out of stock from time to time. You might go one day and find that any particular store no longer stocks it, which is why I always grab a bottle of verjus whenever I see it.
One nice use of verjus from my kitchen notebook is to prepare a shallot sauce a little bit like a beurre blanc, but using a combination of verjus and stock.
A Simple Shallot Butter Sauce au Verjus
In my kitchen notebook, this sauce finishes a lovely 3 flavor combination with smoked bacon and fish. Both the classic monkfish wrapped in smoked poitrine or something more sustainable like cod and crispy speck for example make a nice combination with it. Then again, if you've braised chicken for example and you would like a tangy buttery sauce to go with it, you can use the de-greased cooking juices from that too. Made with your house stock, this also goes very well with sausage - like a simmered Diot de Savoie.
3 medium sized shallots, peeled and finely minced
5 tablespoons verjus
10 tablespoons poultry stock or cooking juice from your dish
5 tablespoons good butter
Melt 1/2 tablespoon of the butter in a saucepan. When it begins to sizzle, add the minced shallots and reduce the heat. Keep the shallots moving in the pan with a spatula, slowly sweating them without browning. After about 2 minutes, add the verjus, raise the heat enough for it to boil gently and reduce the liquid down to half, which should not take long. Add the stock or cooking juice, and let it cook down until the liquid is again reduced by half. Incorporate the remaining butter, little by little, whisking it into an emulsion. At this stage you can also use the hand blender to whip it into a smooth sauce or leave the shallots to add texture to your presentation. Season the sauce to taste with salt and drizzle it onto your fish or meat.
Labels: winter 09-10