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The Bridge to Heaven

A deliciously nuanced cocktail with an interesting backstory is not necessarily what comes to mind when thinking of vinegar. It does come naturally to Michael Harlan Turkell author of Acid Trip — a new book about all things vinegar — and host of Food Seen, a Heritage Radio show. Try his beautiful, versatile Porthole infusion, learn more about its Japanese origins, and watch us give the Porthole a serious shake in the timelapse video.

The Bridge To Heaven
by Michael Harlan Turkell

In the northern Kyoto prefecture, there’s a sandbar grown thick with pines; Amanohashidate, or the “bridge to heaven” is one of Japan’s most celebrated scenic sites, extending its way across Miyazu Bay just off the Sea of Japan. I was able to witness this stunning vista from a hilltop ryokan, with Akihiro Iio, the fifth-generation rice vinegar maker at Iio Jozo. I traveled all the way to Japan to meet his komezu (rice vinegar), which is an opaque amber color, and tastes round and smooth like an aged whiskey—much different from acetone bomb industrial vinegars. It has personality and depth, resonant of the premium rice grown specifically to make the vinegar.

Akihiro and I made our way back to his house for shabu-shabu, a meal of thinly sliced raw meats and seasonally vegetables stirred into a donabe (pot) of dashi broth. I ate these beautifully blanched ingredients from my own small bowl, which contained a splash of ponzu, a citrus-and-soy based sauce that’s balanced, and preserved with a good dose of rice vinegar. When the meal was over Akihiro and I knocked back the ponzu left in our bowls. It had been diluted with the dashi, cutting its strength to an ideal digestif.

Made with an array of Japanese citrus (yuzu, sudachi) mostly unavailable in the States, I’ve tried to replicate my own ponzu in Brooklyn, first with equal parts lemon and lime. I’ve come to prefer the clarity of straight-up lemon juice, which isn’t as citric as lime juice, which I fortify with the oils extracted from the fruit’s zest.

A good ponzu should be drinkable. I wanted to make a cocktail that called on all of its flavors: citrus, salt, umami. First, I made an oleo-saccharum, tossing zested lemon peels with sugar to extract the lemon oil. Often, when using an oleo-saccharum in drinks, you muddle the zests and removed them, but if you leave the peels be, they curl into fantastic ribbons. Next, I used the oleo-saccharum to build a pseudo-shrub, a sweetened-vinegar based syrup. I added rice vinegar, fresh lemon juice, and sake, to make a cocktail, delicious in and of itself. Shaking equal parts lemon shrub and Japanese whiskey with ice, with a dash of soy, produces a small refreshing drink, reflective of the bowl of shabu shabu I had in Miyazu, which will make you hungry for the meal ahead.

Infusion
by Michael Harlan Turkell

Make Oleo Saccharum in a Bowl:

  • Lemon zest of 3 lemons peeled into long strips omitting as much white pith as possible (juice and reserve lemons)
  • 110g (½ cup) sugar
  • Combine zests with sugar, muddle or rub the mixture together with your fingers until aromatic. This will extract the lemon oils, flavoring and coloring the sugar and the resulting shrub.

Inside the Porthole:

  • Transfer Oleo Saccharum to the Porthole
  • Close the Porthole, checking the seal for good contact on both sides.
  • Let sit for 1 hour or more, occasionally shaking (with stopper inserted).

Liquid to be added:

  • 113g (½ cup) rice wine vinegar
  • 160g (¾ cup) lemon juice, about 3 lemons worth, strained to remove pulp
  • 113g (½ cup) Sake

Instructions:

Strain lemon juice to remove pulp. Add the rice wine vinegar and sake to lemon juice, and stir.
Transfer liquid mix into the assembled Porthole through the spout.
Insert stopper and shake until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Best if infused at least 1 hour, periodically toggling the Porthole. Can infuse for several months.

To Make Ponzu Sour:

  • 1 ounce Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese Whiskey
  • 1 ounce Lemon Sake Shrub
  • 1/8 teaspoon soy sauce
  • Ice

To Serve:

Add the Ponzu Sour ingredients to a Nip Tumbler. Garnish with a small lemon peel. Enjoy!

Tips:

The Lemon Sake Shrub can be enjoyed alone or with sparkling water.

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The Bridge to Heaven

photos by Lara Kastner Photography

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