Verjuice is a versatile culinary ingredient. It’s a milder acidulant than vinegar, and it it’s ideal for deglazing, poaching and vinaigrettes.
Sally’s verjuice is made from under ripe pinot noir and shiraz grapes from the Paringa Estate home vineyard, as they’re not fermented, it doesn’t contain alcohol.
Each year, in late summer, we cut off fruit during our ‘green harvest’. This process is important to reduce our yields. As a result, the remaining bunches develop a greater concentration of sugar and flavour compounds. In the past, this culled fruit provided a delicious bounty for the Paringa geese, but this year we decided to make it into our first verjuice.
The geese, however, were not to be deprived. They did their own harvest! They wriggled under the bird nets when the best chardonnay was due to be picked, and stuffed as many bunches as they could until apprehended!
A Brief History of Verjuice
The origins of verjuice can be traced back to antiquity. The Romans used unfermented grape juice in their cuisine. Known as ‘acresta’, it is the derivation of the modern Italian word for verjuice, ‘agresto’. Writer Macrobius (circa AD 400 ) also refers to its medicinal qualities, stating that it is milder than vinegar, and that a small dose will settle an upset stomach.
The name ‘verjuice’ or ‘verjus’, comes from the French “vert jus”, which means ‘green’ or unripe juice. Traditionally it can it be made not only from grapes, but other fruit such as apples, crab apples and gooseberries which have a high acid content.
Verjuice was a common culinary ingredient in medieval Europe. The Cistercian and Benedictine monks in Burgundy had vineyards surrounding their monasteries, and thus a plentiful supply of grapes. One of their uses for unfermented grape must or verjus, was to mix it with ground mustard seed and herbs, to make mustard.
Not only has verjuice been used in Europe for many centuries, but also in traditional Persian cuisine, where it is known as ‘abghooreh’. It’s used in the dressing for Shirazi Salad, which is made with finely diced cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions and capsicum, similar to the Mexican ‘Pico de Gallo’.
Whilst we have Maggie Beer to thank for commercialising verjuice in Australia, it has been in our pantries since Colonial days. A recipe from the Adelaide Observer, (July 1844), for a medicinal preparation called ‘Black Drop’, requires three pints of verjuice and half a pound of opium! It is also listed as an ingredient in dishes such as ‘Beef A La Mode’, and ‘Calf’s Brains A La Maitre D’Hotel ( The Australasian 1864 ).
The Paringa chefs use it in many dishes. See below for the verjuice and viognier jelly recipe. To make a vinaigrette with it, mix three parts oil, with one part verjuice.
As acid heightens flavour, verjuice adds another dimension to cocktails. It’s also delicious poured over some ice with sparkling mineral water.
Paringa’s Very Cosmopolitan
The Paringa Estate Restaurant sommelier uses the verjuice in a few cocktails. Here is one of his favourites.
30ml Belvedere Vodka
30ml Sally’s Verjus
15ml Lime juice
½ teaspoon honey
Add the vodka, Verjus, Cointreau, honey and a pinch of salt into the shaker with ice and shake well. Garnish half rim of the coupe glass with rosemary salt, pour and double strain into the glass. Use a sprig of Rosemary on top of it.
Paringa Estate Viognier and Verjuice Jelly
The Paringa chefs use verjuice in many of their dishes. This jelly pairs well with crab mayonnaise salad or cured trout with avocado.
3 cups Apple juice
2 cups Paringa Estate Viognier
1 cups Sally’s Verjuice
12 leaves gold strength gelatine
Honey to taste
Heat, but don’t boil the apple juice, viognier and verjuice together, then dissolve the gelatine sheets. This amount will fill around 12 cupcakes size moulds. Place in the fridge to set.
Charmaine O’ Brien’s Chicken or Pork Vindalho (Vindaloo)
Charmaine O’Brien has been researching and writing about Indian food history and food culture for more than two decades. She is the author of several books on Indian food including the first comprehensive guide to India’s diverse regional cuisine, The Penguin Food Guide to India. Her latest book, Routes of Connection: Journey’s in India’s contemporary foodscape will be published in 2022.
1 tsp salt or to taste
½ tsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp red chili powder (or to taste)
I tsp finely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Sally’s verjuice
I kg chicken or pork pieces
5 -6 tablespoons oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 inch piece of cinnamon
2 medium red onions
10 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and ground/grated to paste
1 tablespoon garlic paste*
1.Blend ½ of the salt, sugar, ground turmeric, chilli powder and black pepper powder to a paste with the verjuice in a large bowl. Put the chicken/pork pieces into the bowl and coat with the paste. Leave the chicken to marinate in this paste in the refrigerator preferably overnight or three hours at the least.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy based frypan over a medium high heat and brown the chicken/pork pieces on both sides in the hot oil. This should only take a few minutes on each side. You do not need to cook the chicken/pork through as it will be cooked in the sauce. What you want to do at this point is to seal and build up a bit of flavour by browning it. Drain the cooked meat pieces on paper towel.
- Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil into a deep-sided casserole type dish or heavy based saucepan for which you have a lid.
- Heat the oil over a medium high heat. When the oil is hot drop in the cumin seeds, cloves and cinnamon. Stir for 30 seconds then add the onion. Continue stirring the onion for two minutes then add the ginger and the other ½ tsp of salt. Stir until the onion caramelises slightly. If this mixture is sticking to the pan add a little bit of water and stir. Continue cooking stirring periodically until the onion is softened.
- Mix the garlic paste with two tablespoons of verjuice and stir into the onion mix (adding the verjuice to the paste allows it to assimilate smoothly into the dish). Add the pieces of meat and stir to coat with the mix. Then put a lid on the dish. Turn it down to a low simmer, and let it cook gently. You may need to add a little water if it’s sticking. It’s a ‘dry’ dish so it doesn’t need a lot of liquid, just enough to just cover the chicken/pork pieces. Some vindalhos are wet like a stew, but this is a drier version. It’s best to use a cast iron casserole dish or a good quality stainless pan, as they conduct heat better. Keep a close eye on this dish whilst cooking, to ensure it doesn’t burn or stick to the bottom of the pot. You may need to keep adding more water.
Cooking time should be about 30-40 minutes again depending on your cookware. Low and slow (low heat over a longer time) is best. I like to cook this dish until the meat starts to come away from the bone and to do this I usually need to add a little more water so that is doesn’t dry out too much.
Charmaine comments on the recipe, “I had never enjoyed the vindaloo served in Indian restaurants —dosed up as it usually was with so much chili any other flavour was obliterated—but when a dinner guest proclaimed a passion for this very dish, I consulted my copy of The Essential Goa Cookbook by Maria Teresa Menezes and made her vindhalo recipe for our supper. My guest courteously tried to disguise his disappointment that this did not taste like the restaurant version he was familiar with. I, on the other hand, found it delicious—for exactly same reason.
Menezes’ recipe is the foundation the one given here but over the years I have tinkered around with it such that it has become blend of my work and hers, evolved again with the use of Sally’s Verjuice instead of vinegar. A vindhalo is a chilli rich dish yet made properly the heat of this fruit enhances the taste of the other ingredients rather than overwhelm them.”