Sliced Citrus

A Zest and A Squeeze: Tips, Techniques and Tools for Using Citrus

This recipe and photography was provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla and discover her recipes at Ravenouskitchen.com.

Winter might actually be one of my favorite seasons. Cold and snow are challenging, but then winter is also citrus season. From October to March the produce bins are piled high with colorful lemons, limes, grapefruits and fabulous varieties of oranges from Clementines to Satsumas. With so many kinds of citrus to choose from winter may be cold, but never boring.

Sliced and segmented oranges, lemons and limes

I wrote a book titled Sweet and Tart a few years ago featuring desserts and savory dishes made from citrus. After buying bushels of citrus in the bins at my local Heinen’s, I realized that it’s not only the juice but the zest of citrus that carries amazing flavor so I promptly began to zest all citrus. The crisper bins in my fridge were over flowing with naked citrus as I started adding zest to everything. Now, I never squeeze a lemon, orange or lime without zesting it first, transferring all that citrus flavor to sauces, dressings, desserts, salads and vegetable dishes. While the juice adds acidity and tang, the zest holds essential oils from the fruit as fragrant as perfume. Adding the zest to recipes adds complexity without adding more tartness. It makes a lemon, orange or lime-flavored dish more complete.

So, since you will be zesting and juicing like crazy when making recipes and enjoying citrus this season a few tips may be in order.

  • Keep citrus in a cool place. At times I will place it in a bowl to look at for a few days because it’s so beautiful, but then relent and place it in the crisper drawer where it will keep for a longer period of time.
  • For the juiciest fruit, choose fruit that feels heavy in your hand.
  • For the best zest, pick thick skinned fruit; for the most juice pick thin skinned fruit. You can judge this by feel. Thick skinned citrus is firmer and not as heavy. Their skin is usually more dimpled. Feel around in the pile, choose citrus that are not too hard. They should be squeezable.
  • Always zest before squeezing. It’s so much easier.
  • When zesting, use organic citrus or wash it really well to remove pesticides and wax.
  • Room temperature citrus yields the most juice. You can microwave fruit for 30 seconds to warm up.
  • An average lemon will yield about 3 to 4 tablespoons juice and about 1 tablespoon zest. A lime will yield 1 to 2 tablespoons juice and 1 to 2 teaspoons zest. An orange will yield 1/3 cup/75 ml to 1/2 cup/120 ml juice and 1 1/2 tablespoons zest. Of course, these are averages so always buy a few extra to make sure you have enough.
  • A microplane will be the best tool you ever bought. It effortlessly takes just the peel and not the bitter pith that lies underneath. I promise you will never be sorry to give it space in your gadget drawer.
  • A citrus squeezer is a wonderful too because it helps you to squeeze the juice efficiently while trapping the seeds, saving you time.
  • Another useful tool is a wooden reamer. Or try a low-tech fork. Stick the tines in the cut citrus and squeeze while twisting the fork.
  • Fine and medium mesh strainers are handy to separate the seeds and pulp from citrus juice.

I love to eat citrus out of hand. There’s nothing like a chilled clementine orange as a snack or part of lunch or breakfast, but citrus has many roles in my kitchen such as adding a squeeze of lemon or lime to soups. It’s amazing how the acid ramps up flavor. Winter baking wouldn’t be nearly as exciting without citrus tinged scones, muffins, breads and cakes. Salads come alive with the addition of orange and grapefruit sections. Try roasting a chicken with thinly sliced lemon; it perfumes the bird like no other ingredient, the crispy bits of lemon all browned and chewy. Toss thinly sliced orange with sweet potato or hard squash and roast for a simple but elegant side dish. Use citrus juice in salad dressings for a livelier take on vinaigrette.

Zested Lemon and Lime

Below is a chart with some of the more popular citrus in your local Heinen’s. Those bins of citrus will begin to wane as the weather warms, so make the most of citrus season while it’s here and try something new. You just might discover a new favorite.

TypeAppearance FlavorUse
LemonBright yellow, firm but not hard, should give slightly when pressedSour with high acidThe most versatile of citrus. Add lemon zest, as well as the juice, in salad dressings, sauces, soups, baked goods. Add thinly sliced lemon when roasting vegetables and chicken.
Meyer LemonOrangey yellow in color. Should feel heavy and yield to pressureA cross between a lemon and mandarin orange, sweeter and less acid than a common lemonHighly perfumed zest and sweeter juice can used anytime you would use regular lemon .
LimeShades of green. Should feel heavy, firm but not hardSeedless, sour and high acidUse tart limes and zest in salsas, Thai and Indian dishes, soups, baked goods.
Navel OrangeShades of orange with some green at times. Should feel heavy with pebbly skinSeedless, sour to semi sour and acidicNavels are great for snacking, juicing, or eating out of hand. Peel, thinly slice and sprinkle with brown sugar for a simple, yet elegant dessert.
MinneolaBright orange pebbly skin. Easy to peel. Should feel heavyMildly sweet with lower acidEasy to peel and section to eat out of hand, Minneolas have extremely fragrant zest.
Cara CaraShades of orange skin with pink flesh. Should feel heavy with smooth skinPink flesh, mildly sweet with lower acidCara Cara’s pink juice is beautiful in baked goods or as an addition to cocktails or mocktails. Add sections to salads.
Blood OrangeShades of orange with flecks of red skin and ruby red flesh. Should feel heavy with smooth skinTart with raspberry flavor and lower acidRuby red fruit and juice adds drama to drinks, desserts, salads, garnishes.
TangerineBright orange pebbly skin. Easily peeled, should feel heavySweet and easily sectioned with highly aromatic peel Boil strips of peel in sugar syrup, cool and dip in chocolate for a treat or eat out of hand.
ClementineBright orange pebbly skin. Easily peeled, should feel heavy. Sometimes called Cuties.Lower acid, sweeter and smaller than tangerineAdd sections to salads and stir fries or eat out of hand.
White or Pink Grapefruit Yellow smooth skin with white or pink flesh. Should feel heavySour to semi sweet to bitter, pink flesh is usually sweeterAdd to salads, fruit bowls, sprinkle with sugar and broil for dessert or squeeze for juice.
Ruby Red GrapefruitYellow smooth skin. Should feel heavySweeter than white or pink grapefruit.Cut away peel and white pith, slice, salt and eat as a snack, breakfast or squeeze for juice.
Pomelo and OroblancoYellow thick skin and pith. Should feel heavySeedless and sweet with low acid and no bitternessPeel and eat out of hand, squeeze for juice. Add to salads, fruit bowls.
UgliGreen to yellow skin with orange flesh. Should feel heavy A cross between grapefruit, orange and tangerine. Sweet and less bitter than grapefruitAdd to salads and stir fries, eat as a snack or breakfast, use as garnish or squeeze for juice.
Carla Snyder
Posted by: Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes. Look for Carla on Facebook, Twitter (carlacooks), Pinterest and at ravenouskitchen.com where she blogs about everything from cooking for two to easy weekend entertaining for a crowd.

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