Mysterious Liquids in Dark Bottles

salt 006Ponzu sauce is one of the fundamental sauces of Japanese cookery. I won’t list the others, because the chances are you won’t care. But ponzu is one worth remembering. At its simplest, it is soy sauce mixed with lemon juice, providing the best of both worlds – toasty salty soy, and bright acerbic lemon. Risking your interest level again, I will say that in Japan it is not lemons but sudachi citron that are used, which are a more acidic citrus and not readily available in the West. Consequently, until I get a backyard and my own sudachi tree, my ponzu will always be inferior.

However, we live in an age of miracle and wonder, and in the same spirit as Julia Child when she decided to decode French cuisine for the American kitchen, I have decoded Japanese ponzu for the American supermarket. Even my inferior version is amazingly good. Make it, and you will never dip your wontons in anything else again.

Ponzu Sauce

1 cup lemon juice

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1 cup good soy sauce (use naturally-brewed Kikkoman, if possible)

3 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking wine)

1 small handful dried bonito flakes

2 square inches of kelp (kombu)

Mix all ingredients and leave it to stand for a day.  Strain it well, pour it into a mason jar, and put it somewhere dark and cool for three months.

Since you’re going to be waiting all that time anyway, why not try your hand at some liqueurs? The bottle on the right contains my top secret recipe for Fernet Branca. Fernet is a liqueur so vile and dangerous that it is the national drink of Argentina. Only chefs drink it. Fergus Henderson, in his slaughterhouse of a recipe book The Whole Beast, provides this recipe:

A Miracle

2 parts Fernet Branca

1 part creme de menthe

ice

Mix together and drink. Do not be put off by the color.

I would add, don’t be put off by the color of any of your bodily secretions after drinking it, either. It’s worth it, since it cures everything from the plague to gout. Though, unfortunately, no diseases invented after 1830.

14 comments to Mysterious Liquids in Dark Bottles

  • Ponzu? *perk!* I love ponzu!! (prints page)

  • WarPig

    Pretty good, old fellow.

    Have you tried Key Limes in your Ponzu? They’re quite acidic, much more so than standard lemons.

    Might be a reasonable substitute and easier to acquire than a sudachi seedling and waiting the necessary decade, more or less, for it to fruit. Then, without several sudachi trees, you’d have a lack of genetic diversity, leaving your fruit misshapen and prone to watching NASCAR races while sitting there, hypnotically. ;-)

  • Ha! I did try limes once, but not key limes, because they are a little hard to find over here. I’ll keep an eye out for them.

  • WarPig

    Yeah, they’re tiny, but mighty, as I found out when stationed in Key West with the Marines after Viet Nam. Key Lime Pie has a very distinctive flavor when made from honest-to-goodness Key limes. I was used to the standard, California variety of lime but when I used Key limes in a recipe (they used to grow wild there in the 70s) I got a shock.

  • MadCalicoJess

    So how did you go about your Fernet Branca?

    Did you ever carry through with the “Three’s a crowd” theme and if so, what was the finalized menu?

  • Interesting: my local grocery stores (one is a Kroger, the other an IGA) both carry the same brand of bottled ponzu in their “Asian Foods” aisle. This brand comes in two flavors: Lemon & Lime.

    Since I have to wait 3 months for my own ponzu to mature & I don’t have the patience to wait that long without ANY ponzu, I bought the lemon one.

  • Sounds enticing. You should totally try to create citric acid by mixing Penicillium mold and sugar. I’d try it. :)

  • WarPig

    ACK! NO!

    Not for me, at least. I’m deathly allergic to penicillin. I have to inspect bread before I eat it, because although it will not kill me via anaphalaxis, or at least it shouldn’t, the mold itself in any real quantity (visible amounts) will give me a bugger of a rash.

  • WarPig

    What is in fernet branca, other than used motor oil, plug tobacco, fermented coffee grounds, a pinch of DDT, 1/10th gram of plutonium (although a full gram of U-235 can be substituted) and grain alcohol made from floor sweepings at a rum factory?

  • I was always more of a cobalt-60 man myself.

  • WarPig

    I’ve had the drink in Argentina. Sort of a rite of passage thing they do to Gringos, their army to ours. We got even by having them drink a concoction we called Napalm.

    Just wonderin’ what all was in that brew. I was guessing based on flavor. ;-)

  • The exact recipe for fernet is a trade secret, but apparently contains 27 different herbs. My recipe, based on smell and taste, includes myrrh, chamomile, licorice, dried orange peel, saffron, cardamom, bay leaf, fenugreek, and anise. It’s not bad actually.

    What’s in Napalm?

  • WarPig

    Interesting. I didn’t care for it that much when I drank it in Argentina. But they may have “juiced it up” a bit as a prank.

    Basic Napalm is a concoction of 151 rum and Tabasco, equal volumes. Let it sit and the rum rises to the top. It is lit and then drank, flaming, in a gulp.

    Advanced Napalm is the pressed juice of pulped, whole habaneros, then 151 rum, lit and drank, flaming, in a gulp. The 151 rum somehow increases the already very hot feeling you get from habanero (or even Tabasco) liquids.

    We were gonna try ghost chili (naga, bhut) juices and 151 rum but were seriously advised against it by a fellow from the Indian army. He said it could actually do us serious harm not only in the stomach and intestinal tract, but in the throat. The 151 rum would intensify the almost intolerable capsicum amounts and cause caustic chemical burns in our mucous membranes, intestines and especially the colon.

    For those who have bushy mustaches, it is advised to put some Vaseline on them to prevent accidental burning when drinking habanero or even Tabasco Napalm. The spicy liquids can cause coughing and such and thereby get the flame on your face. If wearing great, sneering mustachios it can actually ignite them when they’re waxed to perfection. Saw it happen in Germany once. The fellow had a real Hercule Poirot style of curled mustache. Waxed so heavily it shone. Took a sip instead of gulping it and coughed it back and it caught his mustache afire. Someone threw a stein of beer in his face to put it out. Funny as heck, really, as this guy was a bit of a pompous arse; but to give him credit, he didn’t drop his monocle throughout the whole thing.

    Napalm is discomfiting, even the day after (you’ll wish you had asbestos toilet paper and ice), but it isn’t as dangerous as real cobra venom if you don’t use the ghost chilies. Cobra venom is the most exotic thing I believe I have drank. Fresh, milked from the snakes in front of you by experienced fakirs.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I might pass on that one.