Yes, it’s cold and dark these days, but the joy of winter citrus brightens everything. In Sunset’s test kitchen, we cooks can hardly wait to lay our hands on Meyer lemons, tangerines, mandarins, kumquats, and blood oranges, using them in everything from salads to holiday desserts (like the cake above).
Melissa King is a kindred spirit. The San Francisco chef-ambassador for Whole Foods and Season 12 Top Chef finalist chatted with us last week, and tossed out such fun, fresh ideas for using winter citrus—some of them from her Chinese heritage—that we thought we’d share them with you here.
MELISSA’S WAYS WITH CITRUS
We eat a lot of citrus during Chinese New Year (in January), because it symbolizes prosperity and luck. Kumquats are one of my favorites. My mom has kumquat trees, and I love to pickle them with champagne vinegar, star anise, allspice, cloves, and a little sugar. You can use them in ceviche, or on seared foie gras, or on toast with ricotta or mascarpone.
Kumquats are also great mixed with apples or pears in a winter cobbler.
Another of my favorite ways to use them is to turn them into marmalade—with my grandma’s recipe. You seed them, mix them with grated ginger, sugar, and honey, and then simmer until it’s really concentrated. We add hot water to a spoonful of the marmalade to make a kind of tea (a tisane) to sip whenever one of us has a cold or cough.
Kumquat Ginger Marmalade
Any kind of citrus is good in this, but my family uses kumquats. You can brew black tea and add a spoonful of the marmalade to it, or add hot water for a tisane.
2 lbs. kumquats, washed well and ends trimmed
A 3-in. piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated on a Microplane (or sliced into thin matchsticks)
1 cup each honey and sugar
- Slice kumquats very thinly. (If using lemons or larger citrus, cut fruit into quarters, then slice.) Remove any seeds.
- Put kumquats in a pot with ginger, sugar, honey, and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, then immediately lower to a simmer. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. The natural juices of the citrus should release, break down, and start to thicken. If needed, add a splash of water to keep the marmalade from scorching.
- Test the marmalade’s viscosity by putting a little spoonful on a cold plate. If it’s not quite thick enough, add more honey or sugar.
- When it reaches the thickness you like, take it off the heat and let cool. Store in the fridge.
Grapefruit (and Pommelos)
Because their segments are so large, I like putting grapefruit or pommels in salads. Watercress or arugula work well here because their pepperiness balances the acidity of the fruit. Use a sesame vinaigrette with sesame seeds if you want an Asian flavor. I like to slowly bake chicken skin and crumble it on top. It’s the new bacon!
I really enjoy roasting or grilling Meyer lemons, regular lemons, and limes. It makes them sweet and smoky, and much juicier. Roast chicken with a side of roasted lemon–mmmm. Charred Meyer lemon makes a really good vinaigrette for fish or seared scallops.
Meyer lemon zest is amazing, because it’s so fragrant. Use a strip of it for cocktails (as a twist), or grate it and add to marinades and to your pancake batter for breakfast, especially ricotta pancakes.
I love to salt-preserve Meyers. You can add bay leaves or rosemary or chile. The preserved rind is great in a salad with fresh citrus (like the one I talked about earlier, with grapefruit). And they’re good with Moroccan-style chicken, made with olives and white wine.
Lime juice in salad dressing brightens up your mouth more than other citrus, because of its high acid content. Charred lime vinaigrette tastes great with grilled quail. And it’s good for cocktails (of course!), ceviche, and in shrubs.
How to avoid those fibrous limes with hardly any juice? Press it. If it’s hard as a rock, the rind is thick and the lime is probably dried out. It should feel plump with some give, like it’s bursting with juice.
What about bitter-tasting limes? That’s a sign of age. Buy from places that buy good, fresh, organic fruit.
They’re so beautiful, with a flavor that’s somewhat sharper and more puckery than a regular orange. Don’t be intimidated by them–instead, highlight them; use them to add a pop of color to your food. Blood oranges make great marmalade, and really great Creamsicles. Whenever you use these oranges, as with all other citrus, add the zest to brighten any dish—try adding citrus zest to a stew to add fragrance and depth of flavor.
Satsumas and Sumos are my favorites. They’re chubby and so full of flavor, and because they peel easily, they make a great snack for children. Use the juice for marinades—it’s so much more concentrated than other citrus juices. Try using it instead of lemons in a lemon-curd pie recipe for a little surprise and complexity.
You can use so many of these citrus fruits interchangeably, not just in sweet dishes like pies and marmalades but in savory ones such as salads and stews. Switch it up a little and experiment with all the citrus that can be found in the markets right now. There’s so much out there beyond oranges and lemons!
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