Verjus is probably the most useful ingredient in my/anyone’s kitchen. A gentler version of vinegar, it is made from unripe grapes (translated from French, verjus roughly means ‘green juice’) and can deglaze a pan like nobody’s business. But also brightens up everything from poached peaches (recipe below) right through to roast pumpkin salads (recipe also below).
Like many Australians, I was introduced to verjus by the wonderful Maggie Beer. And thanks to her recipes, began using it here and there. But only when I happened upon it.
Then I met Terry and Julie Dolle at the Orange Regional Farmers Market, discovered the verjus they make under the family’s Orange Mountain Wines label, and the stuff has now found its way into nearly everything I cook.
The Dolle’s vineyard and winery is located not too far from our own farm. And like us, they do pretty much everything themselves. Terry and Julie grow and harvest the grapes then make, market and sell their own wine, verjus and liqueurs.
I visited a couple of weeks ago as Terry was making the season’s first batch of verjus. Just picked shiraz grapes were going straight into the basket press for the juice extraction. The run-off juice was the most beautiful pink colour (and tasted amazing of course).
Orange Mountain verjus is now well known and respected by cooks all over the country. Made in the traditional French fashion, it’s quite high in acidity and even, as Julie suggests, makes a pretty good digestif served chilled in little shot glasses.
The couple first ventured into the world of verjus about this time 10 years ago. Terry was out thinning the grape crop as all good grape growers do a few months before harvest (this is done to ensure that the remaining grapes are as concentrated in flavour as possible) and the wastage of those green grapes got him thinking. Normally the ‘thinned’ grape bunches are dropped and left on the ground but Terry just couldn’t cope with that. “It seemed crazy to waste all that fruit,” he says, “So I went off and researched possible uses for these green grapes and verjus was the obvious path.” He studied, practiced and eventually began making it under the winery’s label.
As Julie says, “verjus is a brilliant flavour enhancer, it just makes everything taste better!” And I couldn’t agree more. Adding a splash of verjus at the end of a dish’s cooking time is to me, akin to a little light photo-shopping on a really nice photo. It just brightens the end result and makes it even more gorgeous.
A simple pan sauce (de-glazing the pan)
This is one of the easiest and best ways I know to sauce-up a simple pan-fried supper or roast.
1/2 cup verjus
1 tsp quince paste, redcurrant jelly (or similar, you just want to use a conserve that boasts some acidity)
20g butter, cut into a few pieces
Once you have finished cooking your roast or pan-frying your fillet/steak/chicken breast/escalope etc, remove the meat from the pan and set it aside to rest under a tent of foil. Pour off about half of the fat (this step is only really necessary when you have roasted a whole chook, lamb leg or similar piece of meat containing a fair amount of fat), then place pan over a high heat and pour in the verjuice or wine. Let it bubble for a moment then stir to release any ‘bits’ stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Cook to reduce for a couple of minutes then add the quince paste or jelly. Stir until this has melted into the sauce then do the same with the butter. As soon as it has melted and the sauce has reached a nice, smooth consistency remove from heat and keep warm until ready to serve.
Roasted peaches and raspberries with verjus
The idea for this recipe came from Maggie Beer’s wonderful book Cooking with Verjuice. The end result is wonderful with ice cream, yogurt, custard, anything. Serves about 6.
6 firm yellow peaches
1/2 cup verjus
1/2 cup sweet white wine
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla paste
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
Preheat oven to 180C. Score a cross at the base of each peach then drop into a saucepan of boiling water for one minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and when cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Halve and stone the peeled peaches and lay, cut side up, in an oven-proof tray.
Combine the verjuice, sweet white wine, caster sugar and vanilla paste in a saucepan and bring to boiling point, stirring so the sugar dissolves completely. Pour this over the tray of peaches, cover with foil and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, add the raspberries and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Warm roast pumpkin salad with hazlenuts and honey verjuice dressing
This recipe (pictured above) comes from local chef Lesley Russell of the Orange Regional Cooking School. Lesley has done many events with Julie and Terry’s verjus and this recipe is always a big hit. Like all Lesley’s food, the flavours are wonderful, the colour and texture beautiful. Great on it’s own with some bread and perhaps a green salad, this is also excellent as a side dish with roast or barbecued meats. Thank you Lesley for sharing!
½ medium butternut pumpkin
Handful fresh sage leaves
4 slices prosciutto, torn in half lengthways
Extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper, coarsely ground
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons verjuice
2 teaspoons honey
Heat the oven to 180C.
For the dressing, combine all the ingredients. Set aside.
Cut the peel off the pumpkin and scrape out the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into serving sized wedges or pieces. Place on a roasting tray and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt & pepper. Roast until softened and nicely browned. Keep warm. Place the hazelnuts on a tray and roast in the same oven until the skins become cracked and dry. Allow to cool and then roll the nuts around with your hand to remove most of the skins. Roughly chop the hazelnuts. Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan and quickly fry the sage leaves until crisped. Remove immediately onto paper towel.
Arrange the warm pumpkin wedges on a platter. Top with parmesan shavings and then drape with the prosciutto. Scatter with hazelnuts and crisp sage leaves and season with salt flakes and black pepper. Dress here and there and serve. Serves 4.