7 November 2013

Rediscovering Verjus for the Canadian Food Experience Project with Herb Roasted Chicken

Herb Roasted Chicken with Verjus Gravy and Fennel and Goat Cheese and Verjus
'The Canadian Harvest' was this months challenge in The Canadian Food Experience Project which began in June, 2013. As participants in this project we have been sharing our collective stories from coast to coast through our regional food experiences on the 7th of each month. This story and the recipe below continues my year long challenge from Valerie of A Canadian Foodie called The Canadian Food Experience Project. Valerie was one of the lucky few who attended the very first Canadian Food Bloggers Conference north of Toronto in April. Her experience inspired her to dig deep within herself, to discover what it meant to be a Canadian in our melting pot of food culture. She has challenged us to find our truly Canadian voice and connect with each other coast to coast through food, stories and experiences. The hope is that we will discover our truly Canadian voice and identity in this diverse country as we share our discoveries. By recounting local experiences such as this we are able to be inspired by the amazingness of other people, the world around us, and a sense of place. You can’t help but come out the other end loving what is unique about yourself. Through this exercise we will find our own individual – not to mention collective – voice.  After a year of discovery we will hear ourselves a little more clearly. 

For those of you who have followed me here at More Than Burnt Toast for at least a part of almost eight years you will know that I live in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, the northern most part of the Sonoran Dessert that eventually winds its way to Mexico. I am always more than willing to highlight the bounty of our area thanks to our emerging reputation as a destination for serious wine connoisseurs. Certainly, bounty abounds. Hot, dry weather, sheltering mountains, and rich soil blend to create our valley one of North America's most productive wine regions. The moniker 'Canada's Napa Valley of the North' is often repeated and somewhat apt. The 180km-long Okanagan Valley is home to hundreds of excellent wineries, whose vines spread across the terraced hills, soaking up some of Canada's sunniest climate. The picturesque backdrop is worth the visit alone with lush vineyards and soaring views from over 200 wineries (at last count).

Okanagan Valley
This fairly recent emphasis on wine contrasts with the valley's traditional role as a summertime escape for generations of Canadians, who have frolicked in the string of azure blue lakes linking our Okanagan towns. And while retirees mature slowly in the sun, so do orchards of peaches, apricots, apples and every other fruit imaginable that give the air that perfumed redolence at the peak of summer. 

The harvest signals abundance in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. You know autumn is in full swing with the grape harvest when the heavy clusters of grapes warmed in the summer sun are carefully cut from the vines and wineries burst to life. Along the rolling hills and terraces, the vines herald the change of season with their many hues of yellows and reds. 

In an idyllic valley tucked away on the Bottleneck Drive wine trail in Summerland an enterprising couple Kim Stansfield and John Gordon have adventured into organic farming with a small market garden on a 10-acre farm. For them it was a natural progression to plant and nurture a 2 acre vineyard 11 years ago with 3 grape varietals and eventually branch out into premium wine vinegars. Wine vinegar is a beautiful product of the Okanagan wine industry and an ingredient highly sought after by a number of chefs in the finest restaurants here in the valley.  For the purpose of this story I wanted to highlight one of our cottage industries and a rather unique niche market. There are many more informed and knowledgable writers than myself to talk about our burgeoning wine industry. What I know and am comfortable with talking about is food.

It is a misnomer to believe that vinegar is wine "gone bad." As Kim explains, "Wine is made in the absence of air and vinegar is made in its presence." On the farm they may have began their enterprise by developing premium red and white wine vinegars but in recent years they have expanded their line, to the delight of all of their customers, by infusing their vinegars with produce sourced from their land such as plums, apricots, wild elderberry, raspberry and French tarragon... and lets not forget their fine Balsamico Rosso. As one might guess by their company name The Vinegar Works, fruit-based, fine vinegars are their specialty, however they also produce an item that is not only prized by French chefs,  but it's something very difficult to source in Canada... Verjus!

Just when you thought your cache of gourmet ingredients had reached its zenith, another one slips in under the radar. Verjus (pronounced vair-ZHOO), sometimes spelled verjuice, is a French term that when translated into English means “green juice." This relates to green as in "unripe" and not the colour. When the lemon was brought back to France after the Crusades, verjus was left in the Middle Ages and Renaissance where it had once been used extensively.  It is a medieval condiment that was once a staple of French provincial cooking and is now enjoying a worldwide revival and becoming increasingly popular.  Did you know that for centuries, traditional Dijon mustard has included a measure of verjus in its formula?

Let's bring ourselves up to speed shall we?
Kim Stansfield of Valentine Farms with this years Verjus; Valentine Vinegar Works; Valentine Farms
In medieval times the term verjus could refer to the juice of a variety of unripe fruit... from grapes to plums. Today, Verjus is made from semi-ripe and unfermented wine grapes. The grapes are hand-picked from the vine during a period called veraison (when the grapes change in colour and the berries begin to soften enough to press). Veraison is a seasonal viticultural practice designed to improve wine quality where they thin the clusters.  Normally these perfectly good, albeit high acid/low sugar grapes are discarded, but Kim and John are turning a waste byproduct of wine production into a useful culinary ingredient in time honoured tradition. In the Okanagan Valley, veraison occurs sometime in mid August.

At Valentine Farm they create their verjus from Pinot Meunier and Gewurztraminer grapes, which lend their typically tart, crisp apple flavour an additional spicy nuance. Verjus can only be described as complex. There is the intense fruity flavour we associate with wine but with an unexplained undertone and a bite.  Neither as aromatic or fruity as wine, nor as intensely sharp as white vinegar, it falls somewhere in the middle of the acid spectrum,  making it more effective than either wine or vinegar for the job of balancing a butter-rich dish or an oil-based sauce (such as Hollandaise) to create that delicate edge. Because of these in between qualities—not quite wine, not quite vinegar—verjus is an intriguing substitute for both of these staples. You can see why it falls into an ingredient category of its own.

On a misty Sunday morning I took the short drive through spectacular scenery to Valentine Farms to meet up with the producer on their fairytale farm. Valentine Farms was the very first venue for The Feast of Fields in 2009 here in the Okanagan Valley. We wandered through the vineyard and discussed the grape harvest, the commitment to organic farming and terroir, and being advocates of farm to table culture. We also discussed the importance of Coronation Grapes but that is a story for another day. 

At the farm Kim gave me a taste of the verjus that was highly reminiscent of apples. I could imagine it as a very refreshing drink in the height of the summer with a little ice and sparkling water.  Kim says verjus cleanses the pallet and opens the taste-buds (just like a glass of bubbly would do) which prepares the mouth for the delicious flavours of the food.  In contrast lemon juice and vinegar which contain citric and acetic acid, close up the taste buds, and consequently inhibit the favours you will experience in the wine that accompanies your meal. Verjus is "wine friendly." Because they share the same tartaric and malic acids, verjus in your food will not clash with the wine in your glass in the way that vinegar would.

Verjus is first and foremost a flavour enhancer, adding richness, dimension and flavourful complexity to all your cooking.  As mentioned it is an elegant, delicate alternative to both vinegar and lemon juice and can be used in larger quantities than either of these in cooking. It adds zest to your food, avoiding the sharpness of both vinegar and lemon juice and therefore, does not mask flavours but rather enhances them. Basically, you can use it anywhere you might add a squeeze of lemon, but with the expectation of a more subtle result. 

Verjus is under utilized in my home kitchen where I use it most often to deglaze a pan after cooking poultry or fish, but it also works well in salad dressings, gravies, reductions, splashed over rice or seafood, in a mignonette sauce for oysters, or as the main ingredient in a palate cleansing sorbet. Many is the time a spoonful can rescue an overly sweet drink. My wholehearted suggestion is to play around and have fun with your food. Verjus is definitely good to have on hand for a little experimentation. Once you have used Verjus a few times and tasted its effect on your cooking, you will be putting it into everything, believe me!!!!!

After opening the bottle, store the verjus in the refrigerator where it will keep for a month or two.  For longer storage, pour it into ice-cube trays and freeze.

My present favourite doesn’t even require a recipe. Sprinkle a few handfuls of baby arugula with sea salt and coarsely ground pepper, shave an ounce or two of Parmigiano-Reggiano onto it, then sprinkle it with equal amounts verjus and extra virgin olive oil, just enough to coat the leaves. Salads don’t get much simpler, or much better.

You can purchase all Vinegar Works products at better Okanagan food shops or directly from Valentine Farm’s tasting room. They also ship “anywhere” so drop them a line.

10216 Gould Ave.,
Summerland, B.C.
Canada, V0H 1Z8
Tel: 250.494.7300
Email: veggies@valentinefarm.com
You can also follow Kim's blog Vinegar Tart for many delicious recipes and ideas.

Today to highlight my latest aquisition I made a tasty roasted chicken dish served with a warm fennel salad. Both recipes have verjus as the star. There's no greater satisfaction than cooking perfectly roasted chicken on a crisp autumn day. Here's a recipe that ensures a crisp golden skin and a light, flavourful sauce. All of the fresh herbs are lovingly tended on the rooftop garden of my friend Dina of Olive Oil and Lemons. I look forward to other stories about the harvest from coast to coast on Valerie's Facebook Page as we embrace our nation with the Canadian Food Experience Project. The list of participants is here. Autumn feasting menus reflect my belief that enjoying local food in each season is the best possible way to eat. I take every opportunity to fall in love with British Columbia's autumn bounty. Only 4 more months till Spring.

**Herb Roasted Chicken with Verjus Gravy**
from the More Than Burnt Toast Kitchen
4 chicken breasts, skin on
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lemon
1 cup + verjus

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Rinse the chicken with cold water and pat dry.

Chop and mash the garlic on a work surface with the salt to make a paste. Scrape into a small bowl. Add the oil, tarragon, basil, thyme, marjoram, oregano, and pepper. Loosen the skin and stuff about a tablespoonful of the herb mixture under the breast skin and spread evenly with your fingers. Spread some extra herb mixture over the top of the birds, as well as underneath.

Place the chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan.  Squeeze the juice of a lemon over them. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over about a cup of verjus.

Roast for 35-45 minutes until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast, without touching a bone, reads 165°F (that is how I roll).

While cooking add more verjus if the pan threatens to dry. If you listen to it the sound will tell you when that happens.

Transfer the chicken to a platter.  Deglaze the roasting pan with enough verjus to make good pan gravy. Add a slosh of cream or stir in the extra herb mixture if you have any left over. Reduce by about a third to concentrate the flavour, and pour over the chickens on the plate that will go to the table. 

Serve with some nice bread to mop up the juice.

**Fennel with Goat Cheese and Verjus**
recipe from Maggie Beer

1 large fennel bulb
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized meyer lemon cut into 6 wedges
4 fresh bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Verjuice
1/4 cup fennel fronds
1/2 cup goats curd
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley roughly chopped
Cut the plump fennel bulbs into halves, then quarters.

Place a large heavy-based pan over a high heat. Once hot, add the butter and cook until nut brown. Add one tablespoon of the olive oil to prevent the butter from burning, then place the cut fennel bulb in the pan and seal gently on both sides until coloured a little.

Add Meyer lemon pieces, bay leaves, sea salt and ground pepper to the fennel.

Pour in the remaining olive oil and verjus and gently poach the fennel over a medium low heat. Place the lid on the pan and simmer until cooked through. This should take around 20 minutes.

Remove the lid from the pan, then turn the heat up to reduce the pan juices to syrup. This will take around 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then add the fennel fronds.

Remove the fennel and lemon pieces from the pan and serve as a warm salad with dollops of goats curd, freshly chopped parsley, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Where is verjus available in Canada? If you know of any other producers let me know and I can add them to the list.

British Columbia
The Vinegar Works
Venturi Schulze 

Crown Bench Estate Winery
Featherstone Estate Winery
Ridge Road

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. The Okanagan Valley looks ever so beautiful! I dream of seeing it with my own eyes...

    What a fantastic dish! Verjus is something I have never tasted.



  2. So interesting, Val. I've seen bottles of verjus here in Oz, but haven't used it yet. Your description has me very intrigued. :-)

  3. You certainly live in a beautiful part of the world. I have heard of Verjus, but knew nothing about it, so it has slipped under the radar for me. I'm so glad to read this post and learn the various aspects of it. Had no idea it was once in Dijon mustard. Your herb roasted chicken sounds incredible Val. Bring on the Verjus.

  4. Hi Val, I have been looking forward to reading this article. It's so interesting. I am going to finally crack open the bottle of Verjus which is actually from Vinegar Works. I bought it at the little store on their farm a couple of years ago. I hope it's still good. I will try the Fennel salad, sounds delish. Also thanks for the mention with the herbs. I am drying some of them and preparing some for you as well.

    1. Thanks Dina. Verjus is something we have available to us but is so under-utilized in our North American kitchens. The fennel salad was good. It has a sweet-sour flavour that is balanced by the goat cheese. My favourite is still the simple salad I mentioned. Also thanks for the herbs in advance:D

  5. honestly, the chicken looks gorgeous... a great post, my canadian friend who sits next to me at work is feeling mighty homesick!

    1. We can all live vicariously through each other Dom. By the way what part of Canada are they from?

  6. I've heard of verjus but never used it. I will keep my eye open for it. Your chicken looks wonderful!

  7. Your autumn pictures do me in far more than the chicken!

  8. Oh my does it ever look good. I like the way you did the presentation in your plate. Your pictures are beautiful, thanks for sharing with us.

  9. Love that definition of wine vs. vinegar.

    I also love roast chickens and fennel. When can I come over for dinner?

  10. You live in a most beautiful part of our world.
    I have never been..but acquaintances have..and have raved:-)
    Gorgeous dish too..
    I had heard of verjus also..but like Chris..never tried..
    Intrigued now!

  11. What a beautiful place you live in! The chicken looks comforting and delicious.

  12. Have always thought to make verjus. You are lucky to find it locally. The recipe sounds absolutely delicious.

    1. It can be mail ordered Sarah, or the Okanagan can always be your playground.

  13. What a beautiful place to live, Val. I enjoyed a peek into your surroundings! I remember when Deana from Long Past Remembered did a post on verjus (thanks for the pronounciation..did not know) and I went out and found some. The difference is subtle, but important. Beautiful dishes for me to try!

    1. There are many who have heard of it Barbara but not many who have had the opportunity to try it Barbara. I need to utilize it more often.

  14. I was confident that your post would be filled with facts that I wanted to know about Verjus and was completely satisfied! I am not informed and really appreciate the time you took to write such detail and celebrate this young farming couple and the niche they have found in the market out there that is forever growing. I cannot wait to open my bottle!

  15. I love the details you put in all your post Val, you're a great writer. You live in paradise, that view is so amazing!

  16. Thank you for a nostalgic trip back through the land of my childhood. I've seen bottles of verjus on my recent trips home but confess I didn't stop long enough to consider or learn what was in those bottles. Thank you for a remarkable history lesson, a chance to discover something new, and to remind that the opportunity to harvest isn't just when things are 'ripe.' Great contribution....


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