The Mother of All Sauces: Ponzu

by Katherine Sacks
Antoinette Bruno
December 2014

Restaurant

  • Daikaya
    705 6th Street Northwest
    Washington, D.C. 20001
    (202) 589-1600
    daikaya.com/

For Chef Michael Turner, Japanese cooking didn’t come naturally. (He was trained in classic French and Italian kitchens). But when he hooked up with Chef Katsuya Fukushima during his early days of cooking, working as a line cook at Café Atlántico, Turner began his Japanese education. A decade later, and Turner has mastered the artful, simplistic finesse of Japanese culinary style most recently at Daikaya in Washington, D.C.

The results are compositions like Daikaya’s Grilled Avocado with Housemade Ponzu. Just four ingredients come together to make this double-take inducing dish: an avocado charred in its prime; a flurry of nori salt; a wasabi kick; and the eminent ingredient, house ponzu. “Those things together make a beautiful dish. If I had just used a bottle ponzu, it would be nowhere near it,” says Turner.

Following the simplicity of Japanese cooking, the ponzu is a straightforward process that yields complex flavor, a combination of fresh citrus, soy sauce, and bonito flakes. Turner uses a mixture of oranges and limes, along with the traditional Japanese bitter citruses sudachi or daidai. “You don’t want the citrus to be dominate, you want it to be harmonious with the soy,” says Turner. Some of the citrus is charred to help add a smoky flavor, and the entire mixture is then refrigerated for six months to allow the flavors to marry together and mellow out.

In the Japanese kitchen, the acidic, fruity flavor of ponzu is a pantry staple. In order to always have some on hand, Turner makes his in five-gallon batches, continually refreshing the main batch with freshly aged ponzu. “It becomes a living culture,” Turner says. “We constantly feed it, which really gives a deep flavor.” Along with the grilled avocado, Daikaya serves the ponzu in a salad dressing, with fresh tomatoes and dashi gelèe, and with grilled fish, like mackerel heads.

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