This is the time of year to include citrus fruits into just about every meal. Oranges (including the amazing Blood Orange), lemons (especially Meyer lemons), limes (including those popular little Key limes), and grapefruits are plentiful and easily affordable. Citrus season can be divided into two parts: from December to March and from January to May, which makes February the most abundant of the winter citrus season. From fruits that can be eaten out of hand, to endless ways to incorporate the flesh, juice, and peel into recipes, there are only a few rules you need to keep in mind to be successful.
We tend to think of the bright colors – luminescent yellows, vivid greens, and the vibrant orange and deep streaks of red – that are the hallmark of citrus fruit. But these vibrant colors only mature on the fruit in cool winter climates. In fact, in tropical regions where there is no seasonal “winter,” citrus fruits remain green until maturity. For example, the Persian Lime (the type and kind we most readily find in our grocery stores) needs cool conditions to develop a mature color (as distinguished from a mature fruit). When left in a cool climate through the winter, Persian Limes actually mature into a yellow-skinned fruit. Indeed, still a lime, but a yellow-skinned lime!
And while color may mature, the ripening of the fruit is something entirely different. Indeed, we may use the words "ripe" and "mature" interchangeably, but indeed they mean different things. A mature fruit is one that is fully grown. Ripening describes the changes that occur within the fruit once fully grown. This period lasts from when it’s mature to the beginning of its decay. Ripening typically involve starches converting to sugars, a decrease in acids, and finally a softening in the rind and a change in the color.
Citrus fruits do not go through a ripening process once separated from the tree, like some tree fruits, such as pears. Pears, for example, are picked when mature but before they ripen, then continue to ripen off the tree. Citrus fruits however, pass from immaturity to maturity to over-maturity while still on the tree. Once they are separated from the tree, they will not increase in sweetness or continue to ripen.
With these few concepts in mind, selecting your winter citrus becomes an easier task. Choose vibrant colored fruit with firm skins that feel heavy for their size. Even thin skinned fruits like clementines or Meyer lemons should have firm skins. Dimpled or softening skin is a sure sign of a fruit passing into decay.
Once you have your citrus home, choose a very cool place to store them. Skip the fruit bowl and opt for the refrigerator if you must. Decay will happen much faster at room temperature. A cool garage or root cellar is ideal. And remember, the fruit will never ripen the longer you have it, so keeping the fruit from beginning to decay is your primary objective.
When you’re ready to enjoy, you need do little more than peel! But there’s so much more you can do to enjoy these fruits than just peel and eat! The aromatic zest can be added to recipes to intensify the citrus taste, or combined with salt and used as a pre-cooking rub or a finishing salt. The peel – once the bitter pith is removed – can be julienned and then blanched a few times and then cooked in sugar water to create a candied peel. I use flavor infused sugars to blend or intensify flavors. Of course you can cut the segments free from the rind, or “supreme” the fruit, and simply season your meals with a generous squeeze of citrus juice that remains.
Winter citrus invites us to get busy in the kitchen, and while you’re there, here are some quick ways to preserve that great citrus taste. In addition to using the citrus in a terrific and fast meal, I’ve made the classic techniques – preserving and candying – simple and fast enough that you can do them while making dinner. You’ll be happy that you did in a few months’ time when you have a bit of that sweet tart flavor on hand, and summer’s hot weather begs for a different kind of “Florida sunshine!” Try all these terrific recipes before citrus season ends!
Recipe: Risotto-styled Orzo with Winter Oranges
Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish
By cooking the orzo in the risotto-style and substituting citrus for wine you add a subtle layer of flavor. Simple, fast and family friendly. You can change the citrus and the cheese to match whatever you are serving at dinner. While it works great with beef and poultry, this is outstanding with a citrus-soy basted fish.
5 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups orzo pasta
Zest from one orange, divided use
Orange “supreme” segments
1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth, plus 1 1/2 cups water
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to season
Rosemary oil*, for garnish
*Rosemary oil is made by placing 1 rosemary spring into about ½ cup extra virgin olive oil and gently heating (do not boil) for a few minutes. Let the rosemary steep in the oil several hours to infuse. Remove rosemary sprig and reserve in an air tight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or for longer storage place in refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.)
Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add the orzo; stir 1to 2 minutes more, until the pasta begins to turn a golden brown. Mix in the orange juice and half of the zest and bring to simmer. When orzo has absorbed most of the citrus juice, add in the broth and water, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in 6 tablespoons grated cheese and continue to mix until the cheese is melted. Add in remaining zest, taste, and adjust seasoning with sea salt and pepper. Serve in a warmed dinner bowl with a drizzle of Rosemary oil.
Pasta can be made ahead. Keep covered and refrigerate until needed. Warm over low heat, adding more citrus juice or water by a few tablespoons to moisten if necessary.
Recipe: Citrus Soy Basted Salmon Fillet
Serves 2; double or triple the basting glaze depending on the number of fillets you are serving.
6 to 8 ounce salmon fillet (with or without skin)
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon butter
For the basting glaze
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup maple high quality syrup
½ cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon roasted dark sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, through a garlic press with juices
Salt and pepper, to season
Wash salmon and pat it dry. Cut fillet into 3 to 4 ounce portions. Combing the ingredients for the basting glaze and set aside.
Set a large skillet (use one that has a lid) over medium high heat. When hot, add 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Place salmon fillets into the skillet skin side down and sear, pressing down on the fish so the flesh doesn’t separate from the ski, until the skin is golden brown. Add the glaze, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover to steam cook the fillets, about 2 minutes more. Remove the lid and reduce the heat to low. Slightly tilt the pan and using a spoon baste the fish until nicely glazed. Serve immediately.
Recipe: Preserved Lemons
Makes 1 quart
Preserved lemons are a classic Middle Eastern/West African garnishment. The classic method is time consuming. This method employs boiling the lemons to soften their skins, which is faster than just soaking them in a brine alone. I use Meyer lemons simply because I am a huge fan. They are less tart and have a sweetness akin to a floral aroma. They are divine. Keep in mind that if you use regular lemons, they require a longer boiling time because their skins are thicker.
To use, simply gently rinse then slice or chop preserved lemons (both rind and flesh), and add to fish, lamb, or chicken recipes. As a garnish, they add a brightness to fish and shell fish, not to mention pasta salads. Remember, they’ve been soaking in a brine, so taste your dish before seasoning with additional salt.
4 Meyer lemons
1/2 cup kosher salt (try a coarse sea salt like La Baleine sea salt, for a cleaner tastes)
1 teaspoon dried chili (red pepper) flakes, or other aromatic piquant spice, such as grains of paradise
2-4 fresh herb sprigs, (choose a woody stemmed herb such as rosemary or thyme)
1 cup fresh lemon juice
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil; add lemons. Boil 3 minutes (about 5 minutes if using regular lemons). Drain and rinse under cold water until lemons are cool enough to handle.
Cut lemons into wedges and discard any seeds you can poke out. Toss lemon wedges with the sea salt, dried chili flakes, and herb sprigs in a medium bowl. When everything is coated with salt and combined, pack the mixture into a 1-quart glass jar. Pour lemon juice over lemon wedges to cover. Seal jar and chill at least 3 days or until rinds are soft and pliable. Shake the container daily until all the salt is dissolved (can take up to 5 days). Store lemons tightly sealed in refrigerator up to 1 year.
Recipes and photos Copyright © 2012 by Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by WITF, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desforback to top