Two weeks ago, Melissa McCart of Counter Intelligence launched a new feature called “Favorite Five.” In it, she asks local chefs about their – you guessed it – five favorite ingredients and then attempts to use them all in a single meal. She also invites fellow food writers to join her in the challenge; the different takes help to illustrate the versatility of the chef’s favorites. Last time, Melissa and Missy Frederick of the Washington Business Journal took on Chef Gillian Clark’s favorite five.
This week, Melissa invited us to join her in using five ingredients chosen by Chef/Owner Peter Smith of PS7’s. Never ones to back down from a challenge, we agreed to work up a menu that included:
1. Mushrooms (specifically lobster mushrooms and/or morels)
2. Pork (any part of the pig, but Smith particularly likes the versatility of the shoulder)
5. Coriander seed
Care to guess which one gave us a hard time?
You can find Melissa’s menu here. Our effort – complete with all the fun that went into finding yuzu, never mind using it – after the jump.
No sooner had we read the first ingredient than our thoughts turned to the bread pudding that Barbara Kingsolver raves about in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. We made it last year during morel season (just before we started writing Capital Spice, actually), and we fell in love with it. We’ve basically been waiting for an excuse to make it again using the first asparagus of the season, fresh ramps (wild spring leeks) and locally foraged morels.
Apparently we got tired of waiting, as we refused to allow the fact that none of those ingredients were actually available when we checked out the Dupont Circle FreshFarm market this weekend to deter us from our plan. Instead, we made use of the bounty that is Harris Teeter, and we substituted leeks for the green onions in the original recipe. Thankfully, they had everything we needed; we’ll just have to make a second batch in a week or two when the locally-grown components are readily available!
With leeks and morels accounted for, we turned our attention to the pork and the coriander seed. Under other circumstances, I would have picked up a pork shoulder and smoked it on the Big Green Egg, but operating under time constraints we opted to cook a tenderloin in the oven. Even so, I found myself reaching into my barbecue repertoire for the preparation. Rather than marinating the pork or smothering it in sauce, we went with a simple dry rub that added a nice bit of spice to the mild-mannered meat.
We combined two tablespoons of ground coriander seed, two tablespoons of sea salt, three tablespoons of cumin, three tablespoons of chili powder, one tablespoon of paprika, two teaspoons of allspice and two teaspoons of black pepper – a variation on a recipe found at AllRecipes and subsequently tweaked to our tastes. I rubbed the spice mixture into the pork and let it sit for six hours. When the time came to put the bread pudding into the oven, the pork went in as well. After almost an hour’s cooking time, the meat was ready to go, cooked through and juicy despite the light pink color of the meat. Though we missed out on the smokey goodness of pulled pork, we’ll be able to enjoy Cubano sandwiches again this week with the leftover tenderloin slices (of course I picked up ham and swiss when shopping this weekend!).
Four ingredients down, and one to go.
As it turns out, figuring out how to use the yuzu was the easy part. We did some reading up on the fruit and learned that it is frequently used in a Korean drink known as yujacha, a beverage that incorporates a marmelade-like preparation of yuzu into tea. The idea of blending the soft, almost floral citrus flavors into an alcoholic beverage took hold and just wouldn’t let go…we would accompany our meal with a hot yuzu toddy! Using a basic whiskey toddy recipe we found online when searching for sore throat remedies a while back, we planned to simply substitute yuzu juice for the lemon juice that was called for. Maybe we were subconsciously channeling Todd Thrasher’s Eamonn’s Cocktail, but we felt like we had a winner in mind and we knew we had to give the Yuzu Toddy a try.
Driving myself nearly insane with a Bowie-esque riff on the name of the Japanese citrus (“Who zu? Yuzu! Zu what?”), I set out on Sunday to find yuzu. I looked while shopping at Harris Teeter – despite their surprisingly diverse selection of fruits and veggies, there was no yuzu to be found. I stopped by Paik Produce in Eastern Market – they had nothing with yuzu in it. I headed out to Whole Foods – no yuzu, no yuzu products. Finally I got smart (kind of). I realized that the best way to find an Asian citrus fruit would be to go to an actual Asian specialty shop. A short ride out Route 7 later, I had my choice of grocers offering vast arrays of jackfruit, rambutan and even durian (all available canned, frozen or both), but none of the shopkeepers I spoke to had any yuzu.
I was getting desperate as I kept coming up empty. With the sky turning an ominous gray, I pulled into Eden Center. I knew it was a Vietnamese enclave, but I was hoping the grocer might stock yuzu among the more traditional fruits of his homeland. No such luck.
Crossing over Route 7, I pulled into GrandMart and hoped for the best. Once inside, I was greeted by something called ‘sweet lemons.’ Could they be the yuzu I had been searching for? I had no idea. They looked a bit like the images of yuzu I had seen on wikipedia, lumpy and greenish-yellow. But were they actually yuzu? I got in line to pay, figuring I’d take my chances, when serendipity struck. Shoji, the chef and owner of Arlington’s Sushi-Zen, came walking my way. Thankfully, he recognized me as a regular customer, not some random weirdo accosting him while he was trying to shop. I explained what I was doing and asked him if the fruit I had grabbed was actually yuzu. Unfortunately, he didn’t even hesitate before telling me it was not. Crestfallen, I thanked him for saving me some money and got out of line. I headed for home, frustrated by my fruitless search.
Monday morning I called PS7’s to ask about the yuzu. I figured they could let me in on the secret of where Chef Peter Smith gets his yuzu. As it turns out, I was told, the delicate nature of the fruit makes them very poorly suited to shipping, so you really don’t see them available in too many places (Now they tell me!). Even Chef Smith uses frozen yuzu juice in some of his recipes, purchasing it from H Mart in Merrifield (I wasn’t even close).
So I had two choices. I could admit defeat – or I could give it one last shot. I opted for the latter, trekking up to Yoshio Tanabe’s Hana Market at 17th and U Streets, NW (near the bottom of Adams Morgan). Tanabe, formerly with the Japan Inn in Georgetown, has opened a small market that specializes in the best and most authentic Japanese items he can find. I explained my predicament to him and he grimly informed me that he had no yuzu. He did, however, direct me to a bottle of yuzu juice that he swore would do the trick (he even promised my money back if I ended up disliking it). It would have to do.
Thankfully, the yuzu juice worked like a charm – I added it as a one-to-one substitution for the lemon juice in the toddy recipe, and it added a light, perfumed lemon scent to the simmering toddy mixture. Our mugs were warm and restorative, and the citrus in the beverage provided a nice counterpoint to the nutty richness of the bread pudding and the spicy coating of the pork.
I shudder to think of the carbon footprint that went into securing that yuzu juice (which I probably just about doubled in the course of my search), but this was a very tasty meal that allowed us to combine classic flavors with new twists.
Thanks to Melissa for allowing us to participate, and to Chef Peter Smith for the inspiration.