At the Crescent Hill Women’s Club a few weeks ago, the topic was Holiday Foods without stress. I demonstrated a Dried Fruit Compote, and for a variation, I mentioned adding some orange zest to the warm mixture to infuse the fragrance and taste throughout the recipe. I warned everyone, that with citrus season nearly upon us, ‘Whatever you do, don’t discard the peels!’
Blogging about orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit peels seemed like a great thing to do, so here I am. Citrus is available to us all year long, like most fruits and vegetables. But, citrus is ‘in season’ during winter months. There is a reason that oranges and tangerines show up in Christmas stockings. Watch the Susan Sarandan , Claire Danes, Winona Ryder version of Little Women – it’s my fav – and look for the oranges.
Remember that zest is the colored part of the citrus fruit peel only – don’t include the white ‘pith’ underneath the zest, it will be bitter. So, as you are peeling or grating, don’t push too deeply.
OK, I am going to give you a list of one million things to do with citrus zest, most of them really simple. As a finale, I’ll outline a detailed process of making candied orange peel that you can use in lots of recipes throughout the coming year.
To start, here is a list of my favorite tools for working with the peels and zest of citrus fruits:
- Fingers – to remove tangerine and mandarin peels
- Julienne Peeler – to remove little, thin strips for garnishes
- Potato Peeler – to remove wide strips, which you may then chop in the food processor or by hand
- Zester – a good one will dig a bit deeper than the J-peeler, and provide lovely, curling strips for garnishes or for candying
- Chef’s knife – to finely mince the zest, and to cleanly peel an orange or grapefruit for slicing or sectioning
- Paring knife, to score oranges and grapefruit for removing peel
- Rasp grater – Microplane or Pampered Chef has the best. This tool will shave off tiny fragments that you can add directly without further fuss.
Now, here is my list of 1 Million things to do with citrus zest:
- Drop a piece of orange of lemon zest into your cup of hot tea while it’s brewing
- Grate orange peel into your oatmeal or chocolate chip cookie batter
- Use orange and lemon peel in hot apple cider
- Lemon zest goes well with blueberries – in pound cake, scones…
- Make simple syrups infused with any citrus zest
- Flavor salad dressings with finely grated zest
- Make citrus sugar (orange, lemon, lime) by drying the zest in a jar of sugar
- Add zest to icings for the most intense flavor
- Add a mixture of orange and lemon zest to a simple cheesecake recipe
- Make my Brown Rice Salad
- Add orange zest and ginger to sweet potatoes or carrots
- Add lime zest and juice and honey to cantaloupe chunks
- Add lime or lemon zest and juice to salsa
- Use the zest of red grapefruit along with tarragon for an incredible sorbet
OK, so maybe it wasn’t a million, but hopefully a few ideas that you hadn’t thought of yourself. Here is my favorite thing to do with lots of oranges – if you are lucky, someone will give you a fruit basket for the holidays. Or just buy yourself a bag of oranges during their season. Most times, I don’t get to this until January.
Candied Orange Peel
- Score 3 thick skinned oranges into quarters and remove the peel, zest, pith and all. Use the oranges for salads or snacking. Slice the peel into 1/4″ long slices.
- Place the orange peel slices in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse. Repeat this process twice more.
- Return the peel to the pan and add 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil once again and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce to simmering and cook and watch closely until most all the liquid is absorbed. Gently stir until the liquid is completely absorbed – the peel will still be moist.
- Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper or lightly oil with vegetable oil.
- Pour the orange peel out onto the sheet pan, and separate the sliced orange peel with a fork. Be careful! The peel is blisteringly hot – don’t touch it with your fingers.
- While the peel is still hot, sprinkle with granulated sugar (extra fine is best), and allow the peel to absorb the sugar. Repeat this process until the peel is dusted with a light, but dry sugar coat. Allow to rest on the pan until completely cool and dry.
- You may decide to dip one end of the orange peel slices into melted dark chocolate – YUM.
- Dicing some into small square will get you ready to try baking some Florentines. But that’s a blog post for another day.