OK- time for me to share a little secret with you ! It might well be the next big thing !
Verjuice (from Middle French vertjus “green juice”) is a very acidic juice made by pressing unripe grapes. Sometimes lemon or sorrel juice, herbs or spices are added to change the flavour. In the Middle Ages, it was widely used all over Western Europe as an ingredient in sauces, as a condiment, or to deglaze.
Picking green grapes for making verjuice. Tacuinum Sanitatis (1474). Paris Bibliothèque Nationale.
It was once used where modern cooks would use either wine or some variety of vinegar, but has become much less widely used as wines and variously flavoured vinegars became more accessible. Nonetheless, it is still used in a number of French dishes as well as recipes from other European and Middle Eastern cuisines.
The South Australian cook Maggie Beer has popularised the use of verjuice in her cooking, and it is being used increasingly in South Australian restaurants. Take a look at her website.
Maggie Beer's verjuice
Verjuice is first and foremost a flavour enhancer, adding richness and flavourful complexity to all your cooking with its balance of gentle acidity and sweetness.
Verjuice is also an elegant, delicate alternative to both vinegar and lemon juice and can be used in larger quantities than either of these in cooking. It adds zest to your food, avoiding the sharpness of both vinegar and lemon juice and therefore, does not mask flavours but rather enhances them.
It heightens the flavours of any fish, chicken, game, red meat, vegetable and fruit dishes. It is ideal for deglazing, dressings, syrups, sauces, marinades, gravies and reductions. It has an affinity with nut oils, e.g., walnut, hazelnut and peanut oil and emulsifies well with olive oil.
Range of verjuices from Verjuice UK
It isn’t always easy to get hold of but it is stocked in Harvey Nicholls Food Halls and after a bit of persuading I think that some Waitrose stores may have it on their shelves. An alternative is to order it direct from Verjuice UK, new on-line supplier of South African sourced verjuice.
For all my meat fans I will suggest a seasonal recipe but the real deal is …….
Deglazing with Verjuice
Set aside your roast/fries/grills and any vegetables that you have cooked with the meat.
Remove excess fat from the pan, leaving approximately 1 teaspoonful. Over a medium heat, add 225 ml verjuice and using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits, incorporating them into the verjuice.
Bring to the boil and reduce until jus begins to coat the spoon. Add stock or water to thin if necessary and stir in a knob of butter for richness and shine.
Tip: Resist thickening the jus.
Now, thanks to Maggie Beer, here is a recipe for you that uses verjuice to deglaze. It will be just right for the autumn.
Pheasant with grapes and verjuice
Ingredients (serve six)
3 young pheasants
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g chilled, unsalted butter
250 ml verjuice
250 ml chicken stock
2 handfuls of grapes
Preheat the oven to 240C. Remove the second joint and wing tip from the pheasant and cut through the skin around the thigh to free the legs a little but do not remove them completely.
Squeeze a little lemon juice into the cavity of each bird and season with the salt and pepper. Melt a little of the butter in a frying pan and brown the birds gently on all sides until golden brown
Arrange the birds in a baking dish allowing the legs to spread. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn over, then cover and rest in a warm place for 15 minutes.
Deglaze the baking dish with the verjuice and boil vigorously. Add the stock and cook until reduced by half, then beat in the remaining butter to finish the sauce.
Less than a minute before serving add the grapes to the sauce. Carve the breasts and legs, pour over the sauce and serve immediately.
Charlie the Butcher