Cheyenne Cohen via AP This May 2022 photo shows a recipe for orange cake. Zest and juice are the two main ways to incorporate citrus into your cooking.
Citrus is a staple in my house 365 days a year, but I appreciate these fruits more during the cooler months.
Other fruits are scarce in winter, which is the peak season for citrus. Also, when most of our cooking tends to feature heavier foods with deeper flavors, that’s when I think citrus has the chance to shine the best. A wonderful complement to richer ingredients.
Citrus is a genus of flowering trees and shrubs that includes lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits. There are dozens of varieties of each type. All citrus is grown in warm climates, and the US gets most of its oranges and grapefruit from Florida, lemons from California, and limes from Mexico.
Citrus fruits are often sweet and sour due to the inherent natural combination of sugar and citric acid. They can add subtle or powerful flavor to countless sweet and savory dishes. You can include citrus in drinks, vinaigrettes, dips, marinades, meats, salads, seafood, pasta, vegetables, desserts, and pastries of all kinds.
A little gives dishes a boost – think a dash of zest over chicken marsala. A lot makes it the star of the show – hello lemon bars!
Zest and juice are the two main ways to incorporate citrus into your cooking. The zest is the brightly colored outer skin of the fruit. Zest adds a flavor note that can really only be described as citrusy! The zest is not really acidic, although it can have a nice hint of bitterness.
The juice is acidic, to varying degrees. And a little bit of acid is what makes most dishes sing and taste “balanced.” Acidity makes rich foods shine a bit and adds overall shine. A drizzle of juice over a fish fillet or grilled vegetables can make the dish.
All citrus should be firm and bright in color. It is advisable to always wash and dry fruits before using them to remove the waxy outer layer that is often sprayed on to preserve them during shipping. This is more important if you use the peel in any recipe.
If you’re cooking with citrus zest, leave the fruit whole and use a vegetable peeler, microplane, or extra-fine grater. Just make sure to only grate the colored part of the skin like the white. “marrow” underneath it tends to be bitter.
If the recipe calls for citrus juice, cut the fruit in half at the widest midpoint. Then, use a reamer, juicer, or juicing tool to squeeze out the juice. Don’t have one of those tools? Good old-fashioned manual juicing works: stick a fork into the fruit and twist and squeeze to extract the most juice. Whichever path you choose, be sure to strive to find any leaking holes.
To get the most juice from citrus, a little kitchen trick is to roll the fruit back and forth with the palm of your hand, gently but firmly, along its widest part. This “softens” and facilitates the extraction of juice.
The best way to extend the life of citrus is to store it in the crisper or crisp drawer of your refrigerator. They can last about three weeks. Oranges and grapefruit should be stored similarly but have a shorter life, usually around two weeks in the fridge.
Here’s a two-ingredient recipe for Brussels sprouts that shows off the appeal and versatility of lemon. You don’t even have to squeeze or grate the citrus; just squeeze in the little roasted wedges.
LEMON ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400F. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray.
Cut each lemon in half crosswise, then cut each half into 6 small wedges (or 4 or 8, it doesn’t matter that much). Arrange the Brussels sprouts on the baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add the lemon wedges. Use your hands or a mixing spoon so that everything is well coated with the oil. Spread the Brussels sprouts and lemon wedges on the baking sheet in a single layer.
Roast for 30 to 35 minutes until the Brussels sprouts are quite tender and golden in spots. Mix half way through and spread out again on the baking sheet, if you remember.
Carefully pick up some of the toasted lemon wedges, about half full, and squeeze them over the Brussels sprouts. Transfer everything to a bowl, including the unsqueezed lemon wedges, and serve. The remaining lemon wedges will add color and flavor to the Brussels sprouts, and diners can squeeze in a little more juice if they like.