Shiso, oh shiso!
If I had to name just one herb out of all the herbs in the world, it would be shiso. Shiso in all its forms is simply divine to me. There’s something irresistible about the aromatic and peppery flavor with its notes of mint, basil and citrus that I just can’t resist! Whenever I see shiso – be it on the menu of a restaurant, cocktail bar or at the grocery store – I simply must have it. No exceptions made!
Since shiso has been difficult to get a hold of in Finland, whenever I get my hands on it I usually just eat it. It’s delicious in so many dishes! But, if I have more than I can eat, I love to make some shiso infused vinegar. Shiso vinegar is easy to prepare and apart from cooking purposes, it also makes a lovely cocktail!
Shiso, perilla, zǐsū, ggaetnip, beefstake plant…
Shiso (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) is a cultivar of Perilla frutescens aka (Korean) perilla. This wonderful herb has become familiar to me mainly during my travels in Asia. I’ve eaten shiso especially in Japan, but also in Laos, China and Thailand! This mint related herb comes in many varities. There’s green, red and bicolor shiso, as well as flat or ruffled… Depending where you’re located, it’s called by many different names too! For instance, shiso is sometimes knows as “beefstake plant” because of the bloody color of the red leaved variety. What a name… Shiso is what it’s called in Japan and I just read that the name derives from chinese: zǐsū (紫蘇)!
Let me get sidetrack here for just a minute: zǐsū reminds me of the Finnish word “sisu“. Sisu is a complex and beloved (or hated, depending who you ask) concept here. To put it simply, sisu means “resilience or tenacity”. Aaaaand that’s exactly what I used to need if I wanted to get my hands on shiso! Here in Finland shiso has been difficult to get a hold of until recent years. Järvikylä (Finnish salad and herb brand) has been growing perilla for a few years, and although that isn’t availble in many of the stores around me, this used to be my only option. At some point I was so desperate for shiso I even thought of growing it myself. Regardless of my lack of green thumbs, and garden… LOL. So imagine my excitement, when I got a hold of large green shiso leaves via my local foodhub last year!
Last summer I ordered a huge amount of shiso leaves grown by Ahlberg from Uudenmaan Ruoka. This foodhub connects local farmers with customers and I love all the special things one can find through them. A big bunch of huge green shiso leaves cost just a few euros, so I went a bit nuts and ordered lots. For a few weeks, I put shiso in everything. I added shiso to poke-bowls, to corn fries, to chirashizushi and to onigirazu (links to my posts in Finnish). And finally I realized, I must find a way to preserve some of my shiso treasure.
After some online research, I tested out soy marinated shiso leaves in the style of korean banchan. I also preserved some in salt! The marinated and salted shiso leaves ended up mostly consumed with rice, as they are supposed to 🙂 They were very nice that way, but I don’t think I’ll be making them again (just because I don’t eat rice all that much). Shiso infused vinegar on the other hand turned out to be an instant keeper!
Making shiso infused vinegar is super easy and the resulting mildly salty shiso vinegar was lovingly used up throughout winter. Shiso vinegar is especially lovely as a seasoning for rice (think sushi rice with a subtle shiso aroma…) but I also love it in salad dressings, quick pickles and sprinkled on crispy potatoes among other things. In fact, I put it in all kinds of dishes to substitute white/rice wine vinegar. And guess what? Now that it’s time to make some more, I will definitely make a triple batch.
Shiso infused vinegar
What I’ve gathered so far is that shiso infused vinegar can be made at least two ways. Either rubbing the shiso first with salt (to lower it’s moisture content I presume?), or simply bruising the shiso between your palms before soaking in vinegar. Whatever the method, the measures seem to always bee a bit so-so… But, I’d imagine the general idea is more shiso = more shiso aroma! My main sources include this recipe by With a Glass -blog and this one by The Japanese Kitchen. They aren’t too precise in their measures either, and I think it makes total sense. The taste will differ in any case depending on what type and how much shiso you use, as well as how long will you let it infuse.
I made the salted version last year and really enjoyed it’s slightly salty flavor. Since I’m making a huge batch this year, I did half with salt, half without. The one without is maybe better suited to be used as an Asian style drinking vinegar… but more on that later! I’ll be sharing my cocktail recipe very soon! For now I just want to say, that if you have a lot of shiso on hand, try making shiso infused vinegar! If you love shiso as much as I do, I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Shiso infused vinegar
- glass jar with glass lid, avoid metal parts
- coffee filter and a fine mesh strainer
- shiso (as much as you like!)
- vinegar (you can use rice vinegar, white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar)
- fine salt (optional!)
- Wash the shiso leaves well. If you're making the salted version, sprinkle the leaves with fine salt (a teaspoons is all you need) and rub them in between your hands. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Repeat the process again.If you're not using salt, simply bruise the shiso leaves in your palms and drop them in your jar.
- Put the shiso leaves in a glass jar and top it off with vinegar to cover the shiso. Put the lid on and store in the fridge for up to 30 days, shaking every now and then.
- Sample the vinegar every now and then and when you're happy with the taste, strain out the shiso. Press the leaves against the strainer to extract all flavor before discarding. I recommend straining the shiso vinegar through a coffee filter before bottling, to get rid of all little particles of the leaves.
- Bottle the filtered shiso vinegar in glass bottle/jar with a glass lid (metal parts might start rusting). Keep the shiso vinegar in the fridge.
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