If you want to use your citrus fruit to the full, as well as extend the shelf life of some of those with a shorter season, read on. You can apply many of the methods here to almost all kinds of citrus, but they are particularly good for capturing the essence of those whose annual visit is fleeting: Seville and blood oranges, proper aromatic mandarins and bergamots. I look forward to the appearance of these fruits every year – I used to hoard them, panic-buying the last sorry-looking specimens, but now I buy them as soon as they are available and make things that I can store for future use, safe in the knowledge that I’ve done everything possible to preserve flavour.
I am a firm believer in keeping to hand all kinds of condiments. This is partly because even though I insist on making pretty much everything from first principles, at heart I am quite a lazy cook. Condiments are a boon to anyone of a similar bent as they can add flavour to simple dishes during the cooking process or at the table. The latter is particularly useful if you are feeding children who might not appreciate the same flavours you do. I find condiments are a means for stumbling across interesting flavour combinations. For me, this usually happens at lunchtime when I have leftovers in the refrigerator – it is how I discovered that any kind of sweet, creamy curd cheese is superb not just with citrus oil and preserved lemons, but with all the “koshos” too, that leftover roast lamb is incredible when put in a sandwich with preserved blood orange, finely chopped dates, mint and chilli, and that some leftover chowder or fish pie is given a whole new complexity by having some finely chopped sweet lime pickle stirred through it.
The traditional methods of preserving citrus generally require time and patience – you will have to delay gratification for weeks if not months. However, there are a few shortcuts that I think actually improve on the originals. They are quick, easy and provide the freshest of flavours.
Need a quick flavour hit? Try this Cheat's preserved lemons (or use limes or oranges)
What to Dry?
It is possible to dry everything from finely microplaned zest to whole fruit, which can be used in rubs, sugars, salts and seasonings, for perfuming stews, casseroles and rice dishes, or in teas and tisanes.
The most versatile type of dried citrus is the zest. It is best to peel it away from the skin in wide strips and scrape off any remaining pith. This is what I use to add a gentle perfume and flavour to dishes such as a classic French fish soup or a beef casserole.
Microplaned zest dries very quickly and is best finely ground to a powder in a pestle and mortar, then added either right at the beginning of a dish, by way of a rub, or right at the end, as a seasoning, in the same way you might use pepper, sumac, or even fennel pollen.
This includes the pith as well as the zest. You can cut this into strips in the same way you would when making marmalade, or you can leave it in big pieces. The former is particularly good in rice – the only issue is that before using, you really need to blanch it two or three times so it doesn’t make your dish too bitter. Larger pieces can be broken up and added to your own blends of teas, or used during barbecuing and smoking – adding dried citrus will scent the smoke that envelops your food, adding subtle aroma and a hint of flavour.
Slices of Citrus
Using cross-section slices is perhaps the most decorative way of drying citrus – these look beautiful left whole and added to hot drinks. Cut them as thinly as you can, preferably with a mandoline. You can also use dried slices to make citrus powder or “dust” (see page 18).
You can buy dried limes, or “loomi”, in many Middle Eastern shops, and they add distinctive, sherbety sour and earthy flavours to all kinds of dishes. They come in two strengths – the light ochre-coloured ones are milder, whilst the black ones have had a much longer drying time and taste more pungent. It is quite a simple process to make these at home (see page 18), and you can also experiment with other types of citrus (smaller varieties are best). The whole fruit are best pierced and can be used to flavour stews or casseroles, to make tea (this is a bit of an acquired taste), or even ground to a fine powder.
How to Dry
This is a very simple process; you’ll already be familiar with it if you’ve ever come across abandoned peel that has desiccated naturally. If you are in a hurry, simply put your peel/zest or slices on a wire rack and toast in the oven (on its lowest setting, if above 100°C/200°F, with the door slightly ajar) for anything between 30 minutes and 3 hours, depending on what you are drying, until they are parchment-dry. The slices will obviously take longer than the peel, as they contain much more water, but try to avoid letting them brown too much as you don’t want them to taste burnt – the original colour should be preserved as much as possible. If you have space and time, arrange on a rack again and leave somewhere warm and dry, for example in an airing cupboard, near a radiator or on a sunny windowsill. The slices will probably take 2–3 days to dry out completely. The best way to store dried citrus is in an airtight container, somewhere cool and dark. As picturesque as strings of citrus slices look, they will not keep their flavour or colour in the same way.
The method for drying whole fruit is slightly more involved. You have probably inadvertently made them yourself at some point (ever left a lime to languish in the fruit bowl until it is rock solid? I have...) and it is true that you can make them by leaving them somewhere dry and sunny. However, to stop them going mouldy before they have completely dried out, it is better to boil them in salted water (add slightly more salt than you would when cooking pasta) for 15 minutes. Then drain, dry thoroughly and leave on a wire rack somewhere sunny, or speed up the process by putting them in a low oven and leaving them until they are light and hollow-sounding when tapped; it is up to you how dark you want them. I have dried limequats and my favourite winter mandarins in this way too.
Powdered Citrus or “Dust”
Any kind of citrus fruit – and indeed any part of the citrus – can be ground into powder. I make quite small amounts at a time and mix and match at will, which ensures that the flavours stay fresh. Very simply, dry slices of citrus as described above. When completely dry (no tackiness at all), allow to cool then grind to a powder in a small food processor with a large pinch each of sugar and salt.
Citrus Salts and Rubs
You can add dried citrus to salt, sugar and other aromatics to make salts, rubs and decorative dusts for sweet desserts and bakes. It is up to you whether you use strips of dried zest or slices for this (I don’t recommend using peel) – it depends on how dominant and zesty you want your finished salt or rub to be.
The variety of rubs you can make is limited only by the contents of your spice cupboard and your imagination. I think lime works particularly well with all kinds of chilli – try these combinations, making sure you add a teaspoon of salt and some black peppercorns to the mix.
• Lime/chipotle/oregano/coriander seed/cinnamon
• Lime (or sour orange)/Scotch bonnet/thyme/ allspice/cinnamon/mace/powdered garlic
• Lime or lemon/Kashmiri chilli/cayenne/ turmeric/coriander seed/mustard seed
Other favourite combinations include:
• Sour orange/Szechuan peppercorns/ coriander seed/cayenne
• Lemon/cardamom/coriander seed/ ground ginger
• Lemon or orange/bay/allspice
• Grapefruit and/or lemon/fennel seeds/ black pepper
• Mandarin or tangerine/smoked sweet paprika/thyme
Citrus freezes remarkably well, depending on what you want to use the citrus fruit for. I always freeze as much Seville orange juice as I can every February, as I love using it in rum punches, which I want to drink more in the summer than winter.
Juice: Freeze in ice-cube trays, small tubs or bags in measured quantities so you know exactly what you’ve got.
Zest: Open freeze zest, either microplaned or in strips, then when it is solid, decant into small tubs or bags. You can also freeze zest in ice-cube trays covered in oil or citrus juice. Use the citrus-infused oil to start off the frying/ sautéeing process in a meal, or for making a salad dressing. Use the zest and juice cubes for anything you need both in.
Wedges: All of the smaller citrus fruits work especially well here for adding to drinks – I use small lemons, limes, blood oranges and mandarins. Open-freeze on a tray then transfer to a freezer bag or container.
Slices: Again, these are good added to drinks where it’s not essential for them to keep their form. Open-freeze on a tray then transfer to a freezer bag or container.
Whole: Citrus fruits don’t keep their shape well after freezing, but this is an ideal way to keep them fresh if you want to use them for marmalade or jelly. So, if you don’t have time to make Seville marmalade in February, all is not lost – you can store them in freezer bags until you need them.
This is best done in small amounts, as its freshness will disintegrate over time. I only make around 200ml/about ¾ cup at once. I always use pared pieces of zest rather than a fine microplane and I pretty much always use olive oil – if a fairly mild-flavoured one.
As usual, there is a long method and a short method. You can put the zest (pared into strips is best) of the citrus of your choice in a sterilized jar and cover with oil, then leave somewhere sunny and warm to infuse for a couple of weeks. Then strain into a sterilized bottle and keep in the refrigerator. Or you can put the zest in a saucepan with the oil, simmer for 5 minutes, then for a fairly light, clean-looking oil, remove the pared zest and decant the oil to a bottle, or for a stronger infusion, leave to cool, then strain and decant.
You can of course add other flavours to these oils, but I do find they are more versatile on their own. Use them to drizzle over grilled fish or chicken, and as a base for salad dressings or marinades in place of regular oil.
This is an edited extract from Citrus by Catherine Phipps (Quadrille, hb, $39.99, available in stores nationally). Photography © Mowie Kay
Cook the book
This is based on the Japanese condiment yuzukosko. You can use it to add flavour to soup, or spread on grilled meat or fish. It also makes an incredible dipping sauce with soy sauce and lime juice. If you like things hot, try the lime-scotch bonnet variation.
This is a middle Eastern classic, for good reason. The birds are marinated in lime juice, then brushed with saffron butter while they are grilled or barbecued.
This is a brilliant way of getting that potent, salty burst of citrus into dishes when you haven't got preserved lemons on hand. And actually, I find this version brighter and more versatile – the juice is salty, but not overly so, and has an intense, citrusy flavour which makes it ideal in dressings or just drizzled over some fish or chicken to brighten it up.
This is a very quick way of preserving zest – the process is sped up because you are using just the pared zest, not the pith. It is one of those things you will not be able to stop eating – the flavour is intense and, if you add the citric acid, mouth-numbingly addictive. Use it as a garnish, or simply as a sweet.
The secret ingredient (and what makes these biscotti so special) is the dried mandarin rind powder – more intensely flavoured and with a slightly ‘roasted’ edge compared with fresh rind. I find the thin-skinned murcott mandarins are best ones to use when making it.
This is my version of a recipe that first made an appearance in pre-Victorian times in England before making a comeback as a sophisticated hors d’oeuvre in the 70s. It seems a little daggy now but I actually think it is a very delicious little morsel, easy to make and with added amusement value.