East Meets West: Yuzu kosho on Christmas Eve

On my mother's side, my family is entirely Italian-American, and each year on Christmas Eve we would observe the Feast of the Seven Fishes. No fewer than seven fish dishes would be prepared, in groaningly large quantities, and laid out on a large table for dinner. Among the dishes there was always baccalà, salt cod reconstituted and baked with tomatoes and raisins; a tremendous bowl of cooked and chilled shrimp, popular with the kids; and spaghetti all'aglio e olio ai alici, spaghetti tossed in a simple sauce of olive oil with browned garlic and anchovies.

Such expansive feasts only made sense while we were all together as a large group. Over the years, interests and economics took us in different directions. I moved to San Francisco, my mother and aunt and uncle to Southern California, another aunt and uncle to Florida, and so on.

Consequently, when we do convene for Christmas Eve, it's in smaller numbers. It doesn't make sense to invest in such a spread. So we economize, making dishes that combine multiple forms of seafood, like a nice cioppino.

If we're feeling especially lazy about it, there's the ultimate cheat: Just hit up your local sushi joint, grab a combo platter and boom, you're done. As many fishes as you like, no fuss, no muss.

Proper sushi requires little to enhance its delicate flavors. To drown it in a murky paste of soy sauce and wasabi from the tube is nothing short of criminal. Rather, I prefer yuzu kosho, a zippy condiment of yuzu zest, chili peppers and salt, to wake up the fish's flavors, rather than bludgeoning them.

Yuzu, for the uninitiated, are a Japanese variety of citrus. They look like the love child of a lemon and a satsuma tangerine, but aromatically they exist in a class unto their own. When you zest the exterior, at first you get notes of lemon and orange, but then it gives way to more savory, herbaceous notes like thyme and rosemary.

Yuzu kosho combines the zest with chili pepper and salt. It should be made at least an hour ahead, but an overnight fermentation allows its flavors to bloom.

It's become something of a darling in the San Francisco restaurant scene, so you can wow your friends by making your own. A little dab'll do ya; a small dollop is sufficient to tingle the tongue, whether on sushi, fresh oysters ... or in a holiday bloody mary.

Yuzu kosho

Commercial yuzu kosho is typically a paste, but homemade versions can be a little chunkier. You can control the texture by grinding or pureeing to your taste. Traditionally, green, unripe yuzu are matched with green chilis, whereas yellow, ripe yuzu go with red chilis for two different kinds of yuzu kosho. Where I live, red chilis are hard to come by this time of year, so I made mine with ripe yuzu and green jalapeños.

6 Tbsp minced chili pepper
3 Tbsp yuzu zest
1 Tbsp kosher salt

Place the chili pepper in a mortar and pestle. Add salt, and grind to the desired texture. Add yuzu zest and grind to combine. (Alternatively, place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree to a fine paste.) Put in a clean jar, pack down, and allow to rest at room temperature for at least an hour; overnight is better.

More from Sean and Punk Domestics:

Sean Timberlake is a professional writer, amateur foodie, avid traveler and all-around bon vivant. He is the founder of Punk Domestics, a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts, and has penned the blog Hedonia since 2006. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, DPaul Brown, and their hyperactive terrier, Reese.

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