I’ve never met a chile pepper, hot sauce, or chile-based condiment that I didn’t like. Do you have an affinity for heat? Don’t you just love that endorphin, light-headed, nose-running, tongue-numbing, feel-good-all-over rush you get when you eat something spicy?

Somewhere along the way I discovered yuzu and yuzu kosho.

Yuzu, an ever-so-fragrant and utterly aromatic, unique Japanese citrus that looks a bit like a lemon (or a lime, when unripe) with large seeds, yet has a taste all its own.

Yuzu kosho, a spicy condiment made from yuzu zest. Traditionally, yuzu kosho is made from fresh chiles (such as green or red Thai or bird’s eye chiles), fermented with salt and yuzu zest. The combination of chiles, yuzu, and salt yield a powerful and distinctive flavor that’s bound to liven any number of dishes (noodles, soups, meats, fish/seafood) or beverages, alcoholic or not.

You can purchase yuzu kosho, and I have a few bottles on hand, but I wanted to make my own. The store-bought variety is too salty and light on yuzu flavor. The only dilemma, and it’s a major one, yuzu fruit is very difficult to find (though, I recently learned of a farm in Long Island [New York] that is growing yuzu and a couple of farms in California).Perhaps, at some point, I will grow my own yuzu tree. And given that I’ve read that they are winter hearty (with a typical growing season from September to December), growing one is a definite possibility — that is, if only I had a place to plant one (not so easy as an urban dweller). Someday. Fortunately, yuzu juice is readily found online and at specialty Japanese markets.

In the absence of yuzu fruit, what is one to do? Give up in despair or improvise?

I’m not one to give up so easily. Instead, I did a riff on yuzu kosho and substituted the zest of Meyer lemon and mandarin orange for yuzu zest. I pulverized the zests, with a mortar and pestle, along with Thai chile, sea salt, and a splash of yuzu juice, the latter to impart that distinct/je ne sais quoi quality that only yuzu possesses. Then I let it ferment for a few days before an “official” taste test. I compared my homemade yuzu kosho with a bottle of store-bought. The store-bought variety was overly salty with just a hint of citrus and a subtle amount of heat. Salty was the dominate flavor. On the other hand, the homemade version had a good amount of citrus, a nice amount of heat, and was much more restrained in the salt department. In making something from scratch, you have considerable control over the flavor profile, heat, saltiness, etc. So, while not exactly yuzu kosho, tasty and interesting nonetheless.

 

Once it’s pounded to a paste, I let it ferment a few days at room temperature.

I made a dressing with the yuzu ‘citrus’ kosho  and drizzled it over a quinoa and salmon salad.

Citrus Kosho (Japanese Chile Paste)

6 Meyer lemons, zested
3 mandarin oranges, zested
3 red or green bird’s eye chiles (seeded for less heat), minced, more or less, depending on desired heat level
3 teaspoons yuzu juice
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Pound the lemon and orange zest, chiles, yuzu juice and salt with a mortar and pestle or food processor, until if forms a paste. Place in a glass jar, cover, and let ferment a few days at room temperature. Store in refrigerator.

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