In the modern kitchen, Verjus is a very versatile ingredient that we use to poach, marinate, balance, pickle, cure and deglaze. With a gentler acidity than lemon juice or vinegar, Verjus balances sweetness, cuts through richness and builds flavour, depth and complexity.
Verjus is first mentioned in the medieval handbook on health and wellbeing, called the Tacuinum Sanitatis. Following the Hippocratic adage, ‘Let food be thy medicine,’ verjus aided digestion, purified the system, and was an integral balancing ingredient in most dishes. Verjus was used in a wide range of medieval recipes. The word ‘Verjus’ derives from the Middle French ‘vert jus’ meaning green juice. It is made from pressed unripe (or green) grapes. Verjus was used widely by medieval cooks as a condiment, in sauces, soups and to deglaze.
There are Tacuinum Sanitatis versions from Venice, Paris, Rome, Liège and Rouen, all translated from the work of Arabian physician Ibn Botlân around 11th century. In this philosophy, balance was the key: fresh air, food and drink, movement and rest, sleep and moderating emotions. ‘The secret of the preservation of health, in fact, will be the proper balance of all these elements.’
Typical medieval recipes included: Black Sauce, or Poivre Noir (nearly burnt bread broken down into crushed ginger, vinegar and verjus, to compliment grilled steak) , Green Porée (Chard cooked with verjus and finished with butter), Chicken with Verjus (casserole of chicken, onions and sweet spices simmered in verjus), Camelline Sauce (verjus blended with plumped raisins, blanched almonds, bread crumbs, cinnamon and cloves) Parsley studded lamb (seasoned with verjus), Summertime Cerulean Blue Sauce (blended blackberries, almonds, ginger and verjus).
This ancient ingredient continues to be used in Persian (called husroum) and Syrian (ab-ghooreh) cooking and French-influenced Australian and Creole tables. It is the acidic ingredient in vegetable and meat stews, fish marinades and salad dressings, to deglaze the roasting pan and as a reduction to heighten its expressive fruit sweetness and mild acidity. In the modern kitchen, Verjus is a very versatile ingredient that we can use to poach, marinate, balance, pickle, dress, cure and deglaze.