Many foods are defined by their aroma and yuzu is no exception. In fact, the distinct aroma of yuzu has earned it its very own aroma compound, Yuzunone, as documented in this recent study.
In Japan, yuzu is most enjoyed in its ripe stage, when the albedo has softened and the skin turns a bright yellow-orange. When ripe, the terpenes mature into an intoxicating blend of musky-citrus-floral-pine notes. In its green stage— before the chlorophyll is destroyed and the carotenoids develop— the fruit displays sharp herbaceous-pine notes.
Yuzu kosho is a condiment from Kyushu Island in southern Japan that utilizes both stages of yuzu. Green yuzu kosho is made from unripe yuzu zest and green chilies. Red yuzu kosho uses yellow yuzu zest and red chilies. Though they use the same products, they are unique in taste and a good example of the vicissitude of flavor in developing fruit.
To make yuzu kosho, whether green or red, simply blend finely minced chili flesh (leave out the seeds and white membranes) with finely minced yuzu zest and salt to taste. Depending on the level of capsicum present in the chilies, and your tolerance to it, the proportions are typically 6:3:1 (chili:yuzu:salt). The mixture can also be pounded in a mortar with a pestle for a smoother paste.
In this dish, I liquified the yuzu kosho with dashi to mimic the smooth texture of the chawanmushi and to contrast with the firm, meaty texture of octopus.
Octopus and I have a long, complicated history. On the one hand, the presence of octopus on the tables of my childhood marked the joyous occasions and holidays when friends and family would gather together. On the other hand, it was a challenging flavor and texture for a child to deal with and certainly not something I looked forward to eating. Even the rice in the ubiquitous dish, Arroz de Polvo, cooked in the acerbic braising liquid, was hard to get down. I was, however, fascinated with the suckers. Noting how they resembled the plastic suction cups on the ends of toy darts, I entertained myself by attaching them to every available surface, including myself. It's possible that octopus suckers were the precursor to a lifelong fascination with the genius designs found in nature.
Fascinations aside, I avoided octopus for most of my life— until I was unwittingly served a grilled octopus salad that changed everything.
According to Harold McGee, in his opus On Food and Cooking, "[octopus} must be cooked either barely and briefly to prevent the muscle fibers from toughening, or for a long time to break down the collagen. Cooked quickly to 130-135F/55-57C, their flesh is moist and almost crisp."
I already knew this was true of squid and abalone but the memory of the long-cooked octopus was too deeply ingrained to put it together. And if I'm being truthful; even if I had, I wouldn't have bothered. Why waste time preparing something that I wouldn't enjoy?
And although I was served a plate of octopus salad that I hadn't ordered, I accepted it as a challenge to myself. One bite of the flash-grilled octopus not only exposed my prejudice, but proved it wrong. The pleasure that I found in the snappy texture and clean flavor reminded me of why it's important to play with food— it's only with an open mind and a willingness to explore that we discover things that please and delight us— whether it's source lies in the maturity of an exotic fruit or a creature from the deep sea.