Verjuice, also known as verjus (meaning “green juice” in French), is pressed from green, unripened grapes. The process involves “dropping” unripe clusters of grapes from the vine and takes place midway through the growing process to concentrate energy to the remaining bunches that are destined for making wine. Gently pressed, half-ripened grapes yield a juice that is high in acid and low in sugar.
The acidity and subtle sweetness of Verjuice complements the flavours of a variety of dishes including fish, chicken and meat. It is ideal for deglazing pans for a deliciously rich, reduced syrupy “jus”, which can be diluted with a little stock or water. It also adds flavour complexity to vinaigrettes, dressings, syrups, sauces, gravies and reductions and adds zest to mayos, marinades, pestos and preserves and is perfect for pickling juices for ceviche, onions and vegetables.
Verjuice has a special affinity with nut oils and combines particularly well with walnut and hazelnut oils and emulsifies superbly with groundnut and olive oils. It’s also delicious as a non-alcoholic cordial – simply dilute with still or sparkling water, or enjoy it neat as an apéritif over crushed ice or as a mixer for cocktails and sours.
For more information, visit verjuice.co.za.
Ready to give it a try? Here are three dessert recipes to get you started:
VANILLA PANNA COTTA WITH VERJUICE-AND-GOOSEBERRY COMPOTE
A delicate, barely set vanilla cream topped with a glorious sunset-orange compote of verjuice and Cape gooseberries. Verjuice enhances the lovely tartness of ripe gooseberries, and the contrast of cool and creamy with sharp and sweet is sublime. You can prepare this dessert well in advance and assemble it at the last minute.
cream 300 ml
full-cream milk 300 ml
5 T caster sugar
vanilla pod 1 (or a few drops of good-quality vanilla extract)
tepid water 4 t
gelatine powder 2 t
For the compote:
cape gooseberries 200 g
verjuice ½ cup
caster sugar 2 T (or more to taste)
1 Place the cream, milk and caster sugar into a saucepan. Split the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape out the seeds and add them to the pan (or add the vanilla extract). Gradually bring to just below a boil over low heat, stirring occasionally.
2. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and gently press a sheet of clingfilm directly on the surface of the mixture (this will prevent a “skin” from forming). Set the cream aside to infuse for 45 minutes, or until it has cooled to blood temperature.
3. Place the water into a small teacup or ramekin, sprinkle over the gelatine and leave to set for 3 minutes. Place the cup into a pan of simmering water (the water should come halfway up its sides) and leave for 3 minutes, or until the gelatine has melted and the liquid is clear. Whisk the gelatine into the cream mixture, then strain the cream through a fine sieve into four wine glasses. Chill for at least 5 hours, or until the panna cotta has set, but is still very wobbly.
4. To make the compote, place the gooseberries, verjuice and caster sugar into a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer, skimming off any white foam as it rises. If the gooseberries are very tart, you may need to add a little more sugar. Simmer for about 7 minutes, or until the fruit is just beginning to collapse. Remove from the heat, tip into a bowl, cover and chill until very cold.
5. When you’re ready to serve, remove half the whole gooseberries from the bowl using a slotted spoon and set aside. Use a potato masher or fork lightly to crush the remaining berries. Spoon a layer of the crushed fruit over the top of the panna cottas, and top with the whole berries you set aside.
PAVLOVA WITH POACHED APPLES AND CARAMELISED VERJUICE SYRUP
Apples and almonds have a great affinity with verjuice. Although apples are not a traditional topping for pavlova, they work beautifully in this recipe with its extravagant, brittle nest of almond-scented meringue, clouds of whipped cream and a reduced verjuice syrup that’s just on the point of turning to caramel. The pavlova should be made 8–10 hours ahead of time, and you can also prepare the apple filling well in advance.
extra-large free-range eggs 5
cream of tartar a pinch
caster sugar 250 g
good-quality almond extract a few drops
For the filling:
verjuice 1½ cups
caster sugar ½ cup
large crisp apples 5, peeled, cored and quartered
whipping cream 300 ml
flaked almonds ¼ cup, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
1. First make the pavlova. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Separate the eggs and place the whites in a clean bowl with the cream of tartar. Using an electric beater or a food processor fitted with a balloon whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
2. Add a third of the caster sugar at a time to the egg whites, whisking well for a few minutes between each addition. When you’ve added all the sugar, drizzle in the almond extract, to taste, and continue beating for another 3–4 minutes, or until the meringue is very thick, firm and shiny (with no sign of grittiness when you rub a blob between your fingers) and easily holds its shape without drooping.
3. Line a baking sheet with greased baking paper (put little blobs of meringue on four points under the paper to stick it down). Draw a plate-sized circle on the paper, spread a third of the meringue mixture over it to form the base, then place big dollops of the remaining meringue around the edges to form a basket.
4. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven, and immediately reduce the heat to 110°C (oven fan off). Bake for an hour and a quarter, then switch off the oven (don’t open the door!) and let the meringue case dehydrate, undisturbed, for at least 8 hours, or until it’s crisp and dry.
5. To prepare the apple filling, place 1 cup verjuice and the caster sugar into a pan. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Add the apples and poach, covered, for 9–12 minutes, or until they are soft. Set aside to cool completely.
6. To assemble the dessert, remove the apples from their syrup using a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the remaining verjuice to the syrup, increase the heat and boil over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes, or until the syrup has reduced by about two-thirds, is turning to an amber colour, and is thick, glossy, and producing plenty of big bubbles. Watch the mixture like a hawk – you want it to be just on the point of caramelising.
7. Whip the cream until soft peaks form, pile it into the pavlova and arrange the apple pieces on top. Drizzle over the hot syrup, scatter with toasted almonds and serve immediately.
CHILLED SPANSPEK IN VERJUICE -AND-LEMON THYME SYRUP
An unusual yet utterly delicious combination: sweet, musky melon balls in an ice-cold syrup of tart verjuice perfumed with fresh lemon thyme. This is the perfect light finish to a rich meal on a hot summer’s day: serve on its own in chilled glasses, or with a dollop of good-quality vanilla ice cream. Make the syrup at least 12 hours ahead – or longer – so its flavours can develop.
verjuice 1 cup
caster sugar 1/3 cup
water 1/3 cup
fresh lemon thyme 4 large sprigs
ripe, cold spanspek 1, seeded
extra thyme, to decorate
1. Place the verjuice, sugar and water into a pan and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Once all the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat, add the lemon thyme sprigs and set aside to infuse. When the syrup has cooled, chill for at least 12 hours. Strain into a clean jug and discard the thyme.
2. Use a melon-baller (or a bowl-shaped metal 1 t measuring spoon) to scoop out balls of the spanspek. Pile the melon balls into chilled glasses, fill to one-third with the chilled syrup, top with a fresh sprig of lemon thyme and serve immediately.