It hasn’t even been a week since Cousin John talked us into making verjus. (Read all about that caper here.) Already we are in the lifestyle. Yes, we’ve converted. And once you go verjus, you never go back. We made about 8 gallons — which we’ll split with Cousin John. Yesterday, a work colleague of Andy’s wondered out loud whatever were we going to do with EIGHT GALLONS of verjus. By today, we are panicking that we might not have enough. Yes, we’re that immersed in the Cult of Verjus.
And cult it is. Seems verjus (literally “green juice”) was very popular in Medieval cooking. It continued to hold a place in French cooking, especially in wine-growing regions. Those thrifty French, who needed to thin their grapevines before ripening to strengthen and concentrate the flavor of the remaining wine grapes, abhorred the potential waste of the trimmings. So they gathered up the green grapes, crushed them, pressed them and found endless culinary uses for them. Most famously, verjus was used instead of vinegar in a kinder, gentler, more wine-friendly vinaigrette. But verjus also served as an excellent pan deglazer, as a base for court bullion and other poaching mediums, and even as a palate-cleansing between-course sorbet.
Now, according to this article, verjus is a rarified ingredient, found in the U.S. only in a few top notch restaurants in New York, San Francisco, LA and Napa/Sonoma. Apparently, the great Thomas Keller is devoted to verjus. I know this because I have two of his cookbooks, including The French Laundry Cookbook. Not that I actually cook from his cookbook. Mere mortals can’t. Believe me, you can’t even boil water his way. To attempt that, you have to prepare the water in some sort of special pan imported from France, then strain it three times through a chinoise and maybe prepare it sous vide. But I betcha even the Almighty Thomas Keller doesn’t have EIGHT GALLONS of verjus!
Yes, we just made the verjus Sunday, it’s still at the clarifying stage and not even bottled. But we’re already having Verjus Eureka moments every fifteen minutes: “Wait, we could use it for poaching fish”, “Hey, we could marinate chicken breasts with it.” What’s really getting us excited is that the aforementioned Thomas Keller reckons verjus as one of his “culinary secrets” (well, not exactly a secret since he wrote about it in another cookbook.) Anyway, he routinely “brightens” a sauce or dish by sprinkling something a little acidic on it: lemon juice, vinegar, or, his favorite, verjus. He claims that your palate doesn’t read that “sprinkle” as verjus; it just notices a clean, clarified taste to the dish.
My friends, I’m here to say that we tried it, and it really works. We grilled eggplant The Cousin John Way with lots of olive oil and Herbes de Provence. Then, just before serving, we sprinkled it with some of the verjus we’d prematurely bottled and brought back to the City. Wow! What a difference. There is no better word for it than “brightened”. The acidity of the verjus, which is mild enough NOT to cause the puckering that lemon juice brings, really opened our taste buds and seemed to make the eggplant, even more eggplanty, and the herbes even more Provence-y. Immediately, we splashed some over the grilled tomatoes and okra we’d also cooked. Same thing. Tomatoes and okra to the tenth power! We stopped short of dressing the crab cakes with it. How much exploding flavor can you really stand?
So what does verjus taste like? Well, I’ve heard that much verjus is made out of Chardonnay grapes. Ours is made out of unripe Cabernet. Surprisingly, it doesn’t really taste like wine, except that like good wine, it has a lot of varied notes and underlying flavors. Think a very mild, unpuckery lemon juice with hints of apple, pear and dust from fairy wings.
In fact, the only downside to verjus is that it doesn’t keep for very long — since it’s not fermented. I’m told three months at the outside, but I don’t know if that’s three months after we open each soon-to-be corked bottle or three months period from date of pressing.
Not that it really matters. I predict we’ll have gone through the full eight gallons before Thanksgiving.