Cooking With Citrus

When life gives you lemons, you can make a lot of delicious things! Lemonade is just the beginning…

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From Mexico to the UK and all around the world, citrus is used in cooking and baking, not to mention delicious libations. Whether it’s for a brine, dressing, or cake, it is always a good idea to have fresh citrus fruits on hand. 

PAIRINGS

You have likely heard of the classic french dish Duck l’Orange. One of the reasons that it works so well is that the orange and lemon-based sauce nicely cuts through the rich fattiness of the bird. Similarly, citrus and pork are a match made in culinary heaven. Lemon and lime juice also compliments most vegetable-based dishes, as their aroma balances well with vegetal flavors. In terms of herb pairings, rosemary and thyme are both well matched to citrus. 

Of course, there are some ingredients that citrus doesn’t pair with (i.e. certain types of cheeses) but generally, if a dish is tasting dull, a splash of citrus will go a long way. For the most part, you can mix and match different acids but be careful when doing so because combinations like apple cider vinegar and grapefruit don’t work.

In terms of herb pairings, rosemary and thyme are both well matched to citrus.

JUICING

If you ever find yourself making margaritas without a citrus press, the good news is that all you need is a fork. The tines on a fork work to puncture the fruit membranes and the bent shape works in your favor. Just slice your fruit in half, stick the fork in and twist while squeezing. Doing this over a strainer will help to catch the seeds and pulp. Though this method works well, if you use citrus alot in the kitchen, it may be worth investing in a handheld citrus squeezer. 

MUST-KNOWS

Remember that citrus, especially lemon, can stand up to richness, which makes it a great ingredient to balance out creamy dishes like gratins and risottos. A splash of lemon and a pinch of zest can prevent foods from becoming too heavy, while brightening the palette with that unmistakable fresh flavor. Just be careful not to add too much citrus to dairy-based recipes, since it can cause curdling. 

A common mistake when cooking or baking with citrus is that many fail to use the whole fruit. The flesh and juice are wonderful, but so is the zest. Not only does zest make a colourful garnish, it adds bursts of pleasant flavour throughout a dish. Citrus peels are also very useful when crafting cocktails. There’s the classic martini with a twist and, when making a Negroni, rubbing an orange peel along the rim of the glass will impart the wonderful oils released from the fruit. 

Not only does zest make a colourful garnish, it adds bursts of pleasant flavour throughout a dish.

Great cooks know that acid can be just as important as salt in a recipe. This is because it brings out the flavor of other ingredients. Remember that acidic ingredients quickly diminish in flavor when they’re cooked, so you’ll want to add this component right at the end, before serving. Generally, it’s a good habit to add citrus juice off heat, when it comes to preparing a pan sauce or other warm dish. This is in order to avoid bitterness and discoloration.  

Great marinades have an acid component and, through a process called denaturation, break proteins down and infuse them with flavour. This results in flavourful meat, but there’s a catch! If left marinating for too long, the acid will actually start to cook it and make it tough. This is especially true for chicken and fish. Denaturation is the same phenomenon behind ceviche, a Peruvian citrus-based mixture. This popular dish is composed of raw fish that has been cured in fresh citrus – usually lemons and limes. The citric acid causes the proteins in the seafood to “cook,” even though there's no heat involved. Cool stuff, huh? 

Great cooks know that acid can be just as important as salt in a recipe.

When it comes to proper storage, you should know that citrus foods will spoil in warm temperatures, so unless you’re planning on using those limes and oranges within a week of purchasing, store them in the refrigerator. When kept chilled, citrus will last about a month. You can even freeze orange and grapefruit segments, if you fancy adding them to a salad or slaw from time to time. 

THE LESSER KNOWN FAMILY MEMBER

Commonly mistaken for grapefruit, pomelos are the largest fruit in the citrus family, with some varieties as big as basketballs. Originating in Southeast Asia, pomelos are grown in Thailand, Mexico and California. Known as ‘toronja' in Spain, their flavor can range from mild to tart and they’re less acidic than a grapefruit, but just as refreshing. 

Like other citrus fruit, pomelos are high in Vitamin C.

Like other citrus fruit, pomelos are high in Vitamin C. They’re also a good source of iron and protein and have been used in home remedies for centuries, most commonly to relieve indigestion and stomach pain. Peeling pomelo fruit requires a little practice. The outer peel is several inches thick, so you’ll need a bit of elbow grease to remove it.

In Southeast Asia, pomelos are often served as desserts, but they’re also a popular salad garnish. Basically, you can use them in the same way that you would use an orange or grapefruit. Citrus fruits work well in salad dressing, coleslaws and marinades. Just be prepared that you may need to visit your local Asian grocery store for some of the ingredients.