Winter is the best time for bright, ripe citrus — lemons, oranges and grapefruits have never been sweeter. Just as we love using fresh juice and segmented fruits in salads and other dishes this time of year, the fragrant peels offer a host of delicious opportunities as well. Here are three ways to make the most of them.
Citrus zesters create thin strips or a fine grating of peel, which livens up vegetable dishes and baked goods. First, scrub the fruit well to remove any wax or chemicals. When zesting, remove only the thin, colored layer of the rind and not the white part, which can taste bitter. For strips, draw the sharp edges of the zester’s holes across the peel to cut away the brightly colored zest in thin shreds — these curls make beautiful garnishes. For finely grated zest, just old the fruit in one hand and a grater in the other, and rub the fruit back and forth across the grater.
Citrus twists make a fun garnish and big flavor boost for cocktails — and thanks to the oils, they can be flamed for a dramatic presentation. To make curls with a paring knife, trim the ends, then place the fruit on the cutting board with one of the flattened ends resting on the board. Hold it firmly down on the cutting board and, using the paring knife, cut thin oval-shaped twists in a downward motion from the middle of the fruit down to the bottom, following the curve of the fruit and turning the fruit after each cut until you have circled the fruit completely. Then turn the fruit over and do the same thing on the other half.
When flaming the peels, look for large, firm, thick-skinned fruits. Hold a lit match in one hand, and pick up the twist in the other very carefully, as if holding an eggshell; if you squeeze the twist too early, the oil will be released. Hold the twist by the side, not the ends, between thumb and forefinger, skin side facing down, about 4 inches above the drink. Hold the match between the drink and the twist, closer to the twist. Snap the twist sharply, directing the oil through the lit match and onto the surface of the drink.
Candied citrus peels are perfect for sweet snacking, dessert garnishes, and even homemade gifts. Follow the recipe below to try it yourself, or see a step-by-step guide here.
Candied Citrus Peels
2 red grapefruits, 6 to 8 oranges or other citrus fruit
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup superfine sugar, plus more for storage
Chocolate for dipping (optional):
4 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
Scrub the fruit to remove any waxy coating. Score each fruit into quarters and peel; reserve the fruit for another use. Put the peels in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Drain the peels and cover again with cold water. Place a heavy heatproof plate on top to keep the peels submerged. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand until the liquid reaches room temperature or as long as overnight. If the pith is very thick, scrape away the excess. Slice the peel into strips.
In a 3-quart saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup and 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. When the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is clear, add the peels. Cook slowly until the peels are translucent, about 1 hour. Transfer the peels to a rack set over a tray to catch drips.
Pour the 1 cup superfine sugar out onto a plate. When the peels are cool enough to handle, roll each in sugar to coat, then return it to the drying rack for 1 hour. Coat the peels a second time with sugar, then return them to the rack to dry for 1 hour more.
If not dipping the peels in chocolate, sprinkle the bottom of an airtight container with superfine sugar, arrange the peels in a tight layer on top and sprinkle with more sugar. Arrange the remaining peels in layers, sprinkling with sugar between each layer. Cover and refrigerate.
If dipping the peels in chocolate, melt the chocolate with the butter in the top pan of a double boiler set over but not touching simmering water in the bottom pan. Blend thoroughly.
Dip the ends of each cooled peel into the melted chocolate, coating just one side. Transfer to a sheet of waxed paper and set in a cool place to harden. Store in superfine sugar as described above. Makes about 1 lb.