Ajipon, famous ponzu brand

Imagine living in Japan for 15 years and never having heard of “Ajipon”, the ubiquitous ponzu sauce—although I’m sure we had some in our kitchen, and I must have walked by it on the grocery store shelves hundreds of times.

According to the Ajipon web site put up by its manufacturer, Mitsukan, Ajipon was developed in 1964, back when ponzu was not a common household item. The Mitsukan president was having some mizutaki in a restaurant and vowed to bring the fabulous taste of the dipping sauce into the Japanese home. Ajipon was the result of three years of experimentation with different types of citrus and degrees of saltiness.

Ponzu itself is created by boiling mirin with katsuo-bushi and konbu and vinegar, then adding citrus juice. If you then add soy sauce, it becomes “ponzu shouyu”, although this could also be called just ponzu. Ponzu or Ajipon would most commonly be used as a dipping sauce for nabe dishes; mixed with grated daikon for yakizakana; or as a dressing for tataki.

And in modern cuisine? In the recipe “Oyster-leek Gratine with ponzu” Ming Tsai deglazes the pan where he sauteed the leeks with ponzu. A San Diego restaurant serves up ahi with a ponzu glaze. Another restaurant dresses pan-fried Escolar with ponzu. Shiro in Pasadena serves catfish with ponzu and cilantro. A cruise ship’s menu tries a ginger ponzu sauce on its grilled ahi. Sushi Masu in Westwood serves up monkfish liver with mountain caviar in ponzu sauce. Add olive oil and you have a ponzu vinaigrette. Geisha uses ponzu as a marinade (with coconut!) for its fluke dish.

Ponzu is the perfect marriage of the flavors of the paddy and the sea and the orchard, of the salty and the sweet and the tart.

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