How to Cook and Eat Winter Citrus
Winter is citrus season. And what perfect timing: just when the cold sets in, and germs are at their partying best, bright, sunny citrus comes to the rescue. And with so many kinds of citrus available — lemons and limes, oranges, grapefruit, kumquats, pomelos, citron, yuzu — there are so many ways to get your Vitamin C on!
Whether you are reaching for a spritz of the juice or a snack of segments, the rest of the fruit often goes to waste. But the entire fruit is edible and useful — from the concentrated flavor of the outer most layer of zest to the seeds in the center, there’s a way to taste, not waste, every part of the citrus.
Buying Citrus Fruit
Unless you live in California or Florida, it’s unlikely you’ll find citrus at your local farmers’ market. When you’re shopping at the grocery store, selecting organic fruit or fruit grown with IPM (Integrated Pest Management) methods limits your exposure to agricultural applications that may be toxic. Citrus fruit is often coated with wax to extend its shelf life. To remove it, soak the fruit in a bowl of warm water with a few drops of unscented dish soap swirled in. Scrub gently with a vegetable brush or washcloth and towel dry.
Use Every Part of the Citrus Fruit
How do you get all of that goodness out of your fruit? The most efficient way is to start from the outside and work your way in. No matter which variety you have on hand, all citrus fruits share common elements: the rind, the segments and often the seeds. The rind is what you have after peeling an orange by hand — sometimes the rind is referred to as the “peel.” There’s a lot to use there: zest is made from the outer-most skin of the fruit and the pith is the whitish inner layer of rind that covers the segments. Below, we’ll guide you on how to use each piece and whatever remains. And remember, whatever you don’t use should go into the compost, not the trash.
While citrus fruit is usually used for its parts — zest for a cocktail or segments for a snack — some recipes do feature whole citrus for a bright punch of flavor.
Instead of letting that extra lemon turn to mold in the back of your fridge, try using it in one of these ways:
- Preserved citrus: salt cure whole citrus like lemons, tangerines and lime, then add to salads, pastas and sauces.
- Baked goods: using a whole orange or lemon gives cakes deep citrus flavor.
- For elegant citrus tarts.
- Marmaladewhere the pith’s bitter edge provides the quintessential counterpoint to the spread’s sweetness. Instead of the traditional orange, try making it with grapefruit or lime.
- For Whole lemon-nade.
- Citrus Ice Cubes: Blending whole citrus and freezing into ice cubes creates individual bursts of flavor that can be added to smoothies, sauces or soup.
This is what comes from removing the outermost part of the skin. It is bright and colorful, full of citrus oil and extremely flavorful and fragrant. Use it to bring a blast of citrus taste to any recipe without the liquid or pucker of the juice.
To remove the zest: unless you need the whole rind for your recipe, harvest the flavorful zest first (meaning, before you peel it from the whole fruit). There are a few methods for doing this. The first is to use a microplane to grate the zest off the fruit. Lay the tool across the top of a bowl and drag the fruit across, shifting the fruit slightly with each pass to remove all of the zest and avoid the bitter pith. You can also use a vegetable peeler to remove wide strips of zest, which can be cut into thin julienne or wider strips or even planks for a drink garnish. A third option is a citrus zester, a metal tool with tiny holes along its edge for removing zest. If you are not using it immediately, dry or freeze zest for later use.
Some suggested uses:
- Bring a spritz of flavor to sugar cookies, cakes and ice cream.
- Make a sauce for a simply dressed pastafor an easy elegant meal.
- Turn your mayofrom bland to brilliant.
- Garnish a cocktailin high style.
The Rind or the Peel
The rind is the thicker skin encasing the fruit. When a recipe refers to the peel, it typically means either the whole rind or just the outer skin and a bit of pith. You can tell what each recipe calls for by how the peel is removed from the fruit. For instance, if you’re making a cocktail and use a vegetable peeler or channel knife, you’re not taking the whole pith. If you’re cutting off everything as described below, you’re removing the whole rind.
To remove the rind: Use a sharp knife to slice off the poles of the fruit, cutting just enough to reveal the flesh. Set the fruit on a cutting board, pole end down. Slice downward to remove the rind, following the curve of the fruit and cutting away as little of the fruit as possible while removing the entire rind. Rotate the fruit with each cut until the rind is completely removed. The peeled fruit can now be used on its own. When citrus is used for juice or as a snack, the leftover rinds can also be used.
Try some of these:
- Candied citrus rindsfor a fabulous DIY gift.
- Lemon syrup for cocktails, dressing or to drizzle over fruit or ice cream.
- In a spice mixture or marinade.
- Citrus tea made from steeping dried citrus peels in water or mulled cider/wine.
- Citrus rind-infused olive oil (great for dressings and marinades), vinegar (good as a DIY house cleaner) or alcohol (cocktails, naturally).
Just below the surface starts the part of the skin known as the pith. It is white and spongy and very bitter. Some citrus — like grapefruit — have a very thick pith and some barely have any. While not commonly used, the pith is high in fiber and Vitamin C, and there are a few ways to keep it out of the trash.
To remove the pith: Lay a section of rind down on the cutting board, surface side down. Carefully run the knife, facing away from you, as close to the surface as you can. Try to remove as much pith as possible, while leaving the remaining peel intact. The peels can now be used like zest (see above for suggestions).
Use citrus pith for:
The inside of the fruit is partitioned into sections that are divided by thin membranes. If you’re eating the fruit out of hand, you’re going to be popping these segments like candy, membrane and all, and in most cases, the segments easily pull apart on their own. However, some recipes call for citrus supremes, where the membrane and pith are removed from segments to create an eye-catching presentation. (Pro tip: you can use non-supremed segments for any of the suggestions below, but removing the membrane creates a prettier presentation.)
To supreme the segments: pick up your now rindless fruit in your non-dominant hand. Hold the fruit over your bowl. Carefully slice downward along both sides of the dividing membrane to free a segment. Proceed with all of the segments. After all of the segments have been cut away, squeeze the membrane and any pulp clinging to it over the bowl to release any remaining juice, and use the remaining rind for another recipe.
With supremed citrus, you can:
- Replace canned mandarin orange slices in retro recipes like ambrosia salad.
- Give them half a dip in chocolatefor an easy dessert.
- Can them in syrup.
- Use them to garnish a cake, ice cream or other dessert.
- Create colorful, zesty winter salads.
- Change it up with tomato-free citrus salsas.
- Pair with roasted meats, like the classic duck à l’orange.
That cup of OJ or nip of grapefruit juice are common characters on the breakfast table, where their bracing jolt can jump start your taste buds and your day. Added to recipes, citrus juice can shine as the star of dishes from appetizer to dessert and everything in between. Used with a lighter hand, a little squeeze of citrus juice in recipes can brighten and lighten foods without imparting a noticeably citrusy flavor — add a tablespoon to spruce up any soup or stew that just tastes a little flat.
To juice citrus: If you have a microwave, heat the fruit for about 20 seconds to make it softer and easier to squeeze. If you don’t, apply pressure on the fruit with the heel of your hand and roll it around on a counter to loosen it. For whole citrus, you can use a citrus reamer, a handheld citrus press, or an electronic juicer, depending on how much you are juicing. And if you don’t have a juicer, use a fork! For fruit that you’ve cut into segments, make sure to press or squeeze the rind and any remaining pulp to release as much juice as possible. After juicing, use the remaining rind for many of the ideas suggested above. You can use that juicy goodness in some many ways.
Here are a few options:
- Classic hollandaise sauce to top eggs, asparagus, fish and more.
- Lemony lentils.
- A rainbow of margaritas: classic lime, blood orange, Meyer lemon, grapefruit or pomelo.
- Pie! Key limeand lemon meringue to start.
- Chicken dishes like chicken with lemon and olivesand pork mains such as slow cooker pork carnitas.
- For homemade ice cream and sorbet, curds, cakes and other desserts.
At the center of the fruit are hard white seeds. They might not seem like much of an ingredient, but they have their uses:
To remove the seeds: lay the supremes or segments on your cutting board and flick out the seeds with your knife. You can save them in an airtight container in the freezer until you are ready to use them.