Bibendum: Venerable Juice

Related to wine vinegar, verjus is one of the oldest ingredients in the cook’s pantry.

By Kim Sunee

Photography by Mitch Mandel

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Bibendum Venerable JuiceVerjus or verjuice—“green juice” in French—is a flavorful and tart grape juice pressed from unripe grapes that are thinned from the vines before the main harvest. It’s fairly new to the American culinary scene, but cooks in Europe and the Middle East have been using it for centuries, to tenderize meats and as a remedy for a variety of ailments, including upset stomach, according to texts on early Roman cookery. (Verjus is cited in what is considered the first printed cookbook in Europe, Platina’s De honesta voluptate et valetudine, dated around 1465.)

Verjus is a natural by-product of wine-grape cultivation. Unlike wine, it is not fermented and doesn’t contain alcohol, so its natural acidity brightens dishes without competing with your favorite accompanying wine.

It can be red or white, depending on the grape. Red verjus, which is bolder than the white, pairs well with meats and sauces in which you would use red wine or red-wine vinegar. White verjus, a bit more delicate, is lovely used as the acid in a simple vinaigrette dressing with tender Bibb lettuces; it enlivens rich sauces for fish and chicken. It can also be as simple as sautéing some pork chops and apples, then deglazing the pan with a dash of verjus. Toss in some fresh herbs and voilà—dinner.
Before adding it to any of your dishes, though, taste the verjus first and then start out by experimenting with just a few teaspoons. Taste again, and add more as you go along until you find the right balance.

Many North American wineries—such as Kendall-Jackson, Venturi-Schulze, Navarro Vineyards, and Wölffer Estate—now produce verjus. It’s also available at gourmet food stores and online.

The Kendall-Jackson culinary team, headed by executive chef Justin Wangler, loves verjus “to add brightness and freshness to a dish.” Some of Wangler’s favorite uses for verjus include adding it in place of, or along with, citrus and vinegar in salad dressing; giving depth of flavor to soups and pan sauces; and adding a tablespoon or two to marinades, brines, and pickles—even cocktails, jellies, jams, and sorbet.

Chef Wangler also shared his recipe for Watermelon Gazpacho spiked with Kendall-Jackson’s own Pinot Noir verjus. “The Watermelon Gazpacho is a simple, healthy, and refreshing chilled soup,” Wangler adds. “It is great served as a shooter for hors d’œuvres, or it can be a more substantial course with the addition of poached shrimp and diced watermelon.”

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