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Cooking from the World Pantry: Yuzu (or Mixed Citrus) Hot Toddy

Mixed citrus fruits | Photograph by Maria Zizka
Photograph by Maria Zizka

Yuzu is a prized citrus fruit. They are easy to come across in their native Central China, where the golfball-sized golden fruits grow on thorn-covered trees in the wild. You'll also see them in Japan, the world's leading producer and consumer of yuzu. In Korea, the zest of the fruit is made into a marmalade-like syrup, which is stirred into a cup of hot water and served as tea.

The fruit is valued for its intense aroma. Gregory Brainin, the director of culinary development at Jean-Georges restaurant in New York, claims he can smell yuzu from across the room. It is said to smell citrusy, of course, but also piney and herbaceous (like oregano), flowery (like Meyer lemons), and even a little spicy and musky.

Yuzu juice is made into vinegar, liquor, wine, and ponzu, the tart condiment used in Japanese cuisine. The zest can be chopped finely and mixed with chile pepper and salt to make a fragrant, hot paste called yuzukosh?. The fruits are harvested from early fall to mid-winter. Throughout Japan, on the day of the winter solstice, yuzu are celebrated in a heavenly-sounding ritual known as yuzu-buro. Whole or halved fruits are dropped into a hot bath and the bather is encouraged to use the rough, pebbly rind as a scrubber. A yuzu bath is believed to ward off colds for the entire year. Upon learning of this tradition, I vowed to participate.

I had high hopes of finding yuzu syrup in one of the Korean markets in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Riding on a swell of confidence after sampling the many different homemade kimchi for sale, I figured buying yuzu syrup (called yucheong in Korean) would be a breeze. I even went so far as to dream up exactly what I'd make with it.

I thought I might transform that traditional Korean tea into a festive cocktail fit for the holiday season: a yuzu hot toddy.

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Alas, Brooklyn is not Los Angeles. The farmers markets here do not overflow with citrus fruits during the colder months of the year. No matter where I looked, I could not find yuzu -- no fresh fruits, no bottled juice, and no syrup. Undeterred, I came up with an alternate plan. I would make festive hot toddies with a combination of the citrus fruits I could find. Instead of visions of sugarplums, you can guess what'll be dancing in my head this holiday season.

Yuzu (or Mixed Citrus) Hot Toddy | Photograph by Maria Zizka
Yuzu (or Mixed Citrus) Hot Toddy | Photograph by Maria Zizka

Yuzu (or Mixed Citrus) Hot Toddy

This cocktail can easily be scaled up to serve a merry group of friends. Simply bring a kettle of water to a boil, line up the prepared mugs, and pour away.

Serves 1

2 tablespoons honey
2 - 3 tablespoons bourbon or rye
Boiling hot water
1 cinnamon stick
Thinly sliced yuzu or a combination of citrus (lemon, lime, and grapefruit)

In a mug, combine the honey and bourbon. Pour in enough hot water to fill the mug. Use a cinnamon stick to stir until the honey is dissolved. Garnish with the citrus fruit. Cheers!

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