The tangy sweetness of citrus fruit is most enjoyable during the cold days of winter when it is abundant and fresh. Whether you make ice cream, baked goods, cocktails or just cooking dinner, citrus fruit can add bright, fresh flavor to any recipe. When you use as much of this tangy ingredient as I do, it’s important to know how to buy it, how to store it and how to maximize the refreshing citrus flavor.
Choose a fruit that has shiny, taunt skin. The fruit should feel heavy for its size. Buy organically grown citrus for cooking. Standard citrus, even when wasted, may still be contaminated with wax and chemicals. (This may give a metallic taste to finished product.)
How many do I buy?
When reading a recipe, it is hard to decipher how many lemons yield ½ a cup of juice or how many limes it takes to get 2 tablespoons of zest. Here is a simple cheat sheet to help buy lemons and limes for cooking. Limes can vary greatly in juice yields. I always make sure I buy the heaviest ones limes and grab some extras, just in case.
1 medium lemon (about 4 ounces) = 3 tablespoons of juice and 1 tablespoon of zest
1 medium lime (about 3 ounces)= 2 tablespoons of juice and 2 teaspoons of zest
Feel free to leave citrus on the counter a room temperature, just use it within a few days. Long term storage at room temperature causes the rind of the fruit to dry out and become like leather- not zestable, but still squeezable to a point (don’t waste that fruit). For proper long term storage, put citrus fruit in a plastic bag or food safe container in the refrigerator. Be sure to bring citrus fruit to room temperature to make it more malleable and easier to squeeze before you juice it.
Before you juice the fruit, roll it on the counter, apply light pressure with your hand while rolling. Rolling helps to soften the fruit and break the inner membranes, pre-releasing the juice for squeezing.
Zest first- then juice.
You can definitely zest a citrus fruit that has been juiced, so if you forget, don’t worry. But it is much, much, easier to juice a zested fruit than it is to zest a juiced fruit. If you choose the latter, be careful, you are likely to zest your knuckles along with your fruit.
Zest over the bowl.
When you zest fruit, small amounts of liquid essential oils are released into the air in a mist. If you zest over the bowl, you can capture as much of these oils as possible.
Citrus fruit has a thin, colorful, outer layer that contains the essential oils or zest. The aromatic oils found in the zest contain a slightly floral flavor not found in the juice. It is best to use both the juice and the zest, when cooking, for a bolder, fuller citrus flavor. I use two tools to zest a fruit, a standard peeler and a microplane rasp grater.
To make candied citrus zest, or other recipes that call for citrus peel, I use a standard peeler. With a peeler you can take long, large stripes of zest that can be cut into the sizes, and shapes, that you need. Just make sure not to remove the bitter pith (white inner skin layer) along with the zest. For fine strands of zest, for use in all kinds of ways, use a microplane rasp grater. The flat, shallow teeth of a microplane grab just at the skins surface, removing the flavorful zest and none of the pith.
Two standard handheld tools used for juicing citrus include the lever press and the reamer. The lever press is fast, has a maximum juice yield and helps to release the essential oils from the zest into the juice. A metal lever press is more sturdy than plastic. If it is metal make sure it is a coated press as the juice can discolor the metal. A reamer style juicer is not as fast, especially for large quantities of juice, but it gets the job done. I use a reamer juicer to make orange or tangerine juice with extra pulp. A reamer juicer doesn’t give you the added essential oils that you get from pressing.
Absolutely No Aluminum!
When working with citrus never use aluminum. Aluminum is reactive causing acidic foods to discolor. If you need a heat safe container choose glass or stainless steel (plastic is ok too).
The varieties of citrus fruit go above and beyond the usual lemon, lime and orange. It is definitely worth becoming familiar with the unique flavors of blood orange, pomelo, mandarin orange, tangerine, clementine, kumquat, grapefruit and others. Most citrus is interchangeable, this allows you to substitute one kind for another. But remember, the sweetness and acidity of each citrus fruit is different and can change the flavors of the final product. (To avoid this try to match fruits with similar sweetness and acidity.)
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