Pickings are definitely slim when it comes to winter produce. So if you’re already over apples and pears, you might as well ride out the winter season with citrus. We’re talking about vitamin C-abundant oranges, clementines, and more; whose vibrantly colored, supremely juicy flesh adds a welcome jolt of freshness to an otherwise ultra-rich cold weather diet.
First cultivated in China around 2500 BC, Oranges eventually made their way to Florida in 1872, which is currently one of the largest orange producing regions in the world, second only to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Ranging from lip-puckeringly bitter to extremely sweet, with a tender rind that’s often used in cooking, there are far more varieties than the common “blonde” orange to which we’ve become largely accustomed — from the outsized, easy to peel Navel (such as the rosy Cara Cara) and the dainty seedless Clementine (alternately referred to as a Mandarin or Satsuma) to the eye-catching Blood Orange, with its succulent juice and striking, burgundy color. Then there are bitter oranges, such as the Seville, Chinotto or Bouquet de Fleurs, which are frequently used to make jam or marmalade, or flavor liqueurs, like Grand Marnier and Cointreau.
And while they rarely play a starring role in dishes, New York chefs are still making deliciously diverse use of citrus this season. Take the Waldorf Astoria’s luxe Asian restaurant, La Chine, where Bone-in Pork Ribs are coated in a kumquat glaze, and Davi DeRossi’s highly inventive vegetarian restaurant, Avant Garden, where you’ll find a classic flavor combo presented in a brand new way; Toast topped with fennel hummus, castelvetrano olives and orange.
Santina goes the more traditional route with Insalata di Arance; an orange salad tossed with fennel and hazelnuts, and over in Brooklyn, Williamsburg favorite, Beco, is serving the Brazilian specialty, Feijoada; a deeply savory pork, sausage and black bean stew, served with a garnish-yourself side of rice, collard greens and sliced oranges. Also in Brooklyn, the Peruvian Llama Inn (from EMP and Raymi vet, Erik Ramirez) incorporates citrus in their dessert, accenting a duo of homemade Chirimoya and Coconut Sorbet. And if you’d just as soon drink your oranges, check out the fiery Jalapeno Margarita at Stanton Social, made with a base of berry-sweet blood orange juice.
When you’re selecting oranges at the grocery store or farmers market, keep in mind they don’t necessarily have to have a bright orange color in order to be good — so don’t be afraid of fruit with just a tinge of green or brown. Just look for oranges with smoothly textured skin that are firm and heavy for their size, which will have a higher juice content than those that are either spongy or lighter in weight. A sweet scent is always a good sign; just steer clear of soft spots or traces of mold.
Oranges can either be stored loose (avoid plastic bags, which can collect moisture) at room temperature or in the refrigerator, and will generally last about two weeks. Orange juice and zest can also be stored for later use. As citrus fruits produce more juice when warmer, always squeeze them when they are at room temperature. Rolling the orange under the palm of your hand on a flat surface will also help to extract more juice. Place freshly squeezed orange juice in ice cube trays until frozen, and then store them in plastic bags in the freezer. Dried orange zest should be stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight glass container. After washing and drying the orange, use a zester, paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the zest, which is the orange part of the peel. Make sure not to remove too much of the peel as the white pith underneath is bitter and should not be used. The zest can then be more finely chopped or diced if necessary.
While oranges are good to go just eaten out of hand (or made into juice or jam), there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the winter citrus. Sauté onions and ginger, deglaze the pan with orange juice, and use as a sauce for salmon, tuna, chicken or pork. Toss orange segments with fennel and beets for a substantial, refreshing salad. Gently simmer sweet potatoes, winter squash and orange segments in orange juice, and sprinkle with nuts as a side dish.
Lest we forget the peel! You can use orange peel to infuse mulled cider, wine or spicy chai tea, or cover with vodka and let sit for a few weeks, in order to make extract or boozy orange-cello. Chop the flesh into a small dice for a citrus salsa or slaw, or swap juice out for vinegar for a vibrant salad dressing. Use oranges instead of lemons in a creamy curd recipe (just lower the sugar by one third), and substitute orange juice for water in your pancake, waffle or muffin mixes. Oranges and chocolate also make a perfect pair; so add a dash of juice and a slurry of zest into your brownies, cakes, or cookies, or better yet, just candy whole strips of rind, and dunk them in dark chocolate.
So take a break from apples, and make the most of oranges this winter instead. Because goodness knows, it will be a few months yet before we have access to any other type of fruit!
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