Taste It, Don't Waste It! Winter Citrus

Caption Photograph courtesy of Sherri Brooks Vinton

Juice oranges on the tree

Winter is citrus season. And what perfect timing it is. Just when the cold and grey sets in and cold and flu bugs are at their partying best, mighty, bright, sunny citrus comes to the rescue. And with so many kinds of citrus available - lemons and limes, oranges, grapefruit, kumquats, pummelos, citron, even exotic 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.

Use Every Part of the Citrus Fruit

What are those parts? No matter which variety you have on hand, all citrus fruits share these common elements:

Zest : this is the outermost part of the skin. It is bright and colorful, full of citrus oil and extremely flavorful and fragrant. It is used to bring a blast of citrus taste to any recipe without the liquid or pucker of the juice.

Try adding zest to:

Pith : just below the zest is the part of the skin known as the pith. It is white and spongy and very bitter. But don't hate. This bitter quality can be tamed into palate pleasing submission.

Turn the whole peel, both pith and zest, into:

Segments : 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. Their handy shape also makes them an easy and eye catching addition to any number of recipes.

You can:

Pulp : each segment is filled with tiny fluid-filled sacs. When the membrane is cut away from the segments, in a method called supreming (see below), only the pulp of the sections remains. It's my favorite technique for incorporating the flesh of the fruit in recipes like this:

Juice : press or squeeze any citrus to burst the pulp sacs and release rivers of tangy juice. That cup of OJ or nip of grapefruit juice are common characters on the breakfast table where their bracing jolt can jump start your tastebuds and your day. Added to recipes, citrus juice can shine as the star of dishes from any course from app to dessert and everything in between. Used with a lighter hand, a little squeeze of citrus juice in recipes can brighten and lighten your dish without imparting a noticeably citrusy flavor - add a tablespoon to spruce up any soup or stew that just tastes a little flat.  

To really highlight that juicy goodness, squeeze your citrus into:

Seeds : at the center of the fruit are hard white seeds. They might not seem like much of an ingredient, but they have their uses:

How to Use 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.

Choose your fruit: selecting organic fruit or fruit grown with IPM (Integrated Pest Management) methods limits your exposure to agricultural applications that may be toxic.

Thoroughly wash your fruit: unless you have your own citrus trees or are buying directly from the grower, chances are your citrus fruit is coated with wax to extend its shelf life. Best to remove it. To be really thorough about 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.

To remove the zest: unless you are going to be using the whole rind in your recipe (the zest and pith) you want to harvest the flavorful zest first. If you are not using it immediately, you can dry or freeze it for later use. There are few methods for removing the zest. The first is to use a Microplane to grate the zest off the fruit. I find the easiest way to use this tool is to lay it across the top of a bowl and drag the fruit across, shifting the fruit slightly with each pass so you don't cut into the bitter pith. Your second choice would be to use a vegetable peeler to remove wide strips of zest. You can then cut the strips into thin julienne or wider strips or even planks for a drink garnish. You can also use a citrus zester, which is a metal tool with tiny holes along its edge for removing zest. Some find it handy, but I think it leaves too much valuable zest behind.

To remove the pith: have ready a cutting board, sharp knife and a bowl. Slice off the poles of the fruit just deeply enough to reveal the flesh. Set the fruit, pole end down, on your cutting board. Slice just under the pith and down, using a sawing motion and following the curve of the fruit. To maintain a comfortable hand position, rotate the fruit with each pass so that you are turning the fruit toward the blade, not revolving the blade around the fruit. Compost the pith.

To separate the segments: pick up your now rindless fruit in your non-dominant hand. Hold the fruit over your bowl. Carefully slice along both slides of the dividing membrane to free a section of pulp and allow it to fall into the bowl. 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.

To remove the seeds: lay the membrane 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. Compost the spent membrane.

Enjoy your citrus!

Need a visual? Hit it, Martha!