A Citrus Winter

 

January 5, 2017

Issue 22: January/February 2017Sonoran Skillet

I have lived in Arizona for two and a half years now and the magic of fresh citrus still isn’t lost on me. For the first 30 years of my life, I lived in really cold places. Logically, I knew that lemons grew on trees, but actually seeing it happen remains a special sort of sorcery. Not only do they grow on trees, but they do it so well that folks have so many lemons that they don’t know what to do with them all. What a beautiful problem! My first winter here, when shopping bags full of oranges, lemons, and grapefruits started showing up on my doorstep, I was truly beside myself.

Citrus is so widely landscaped and grows so well in Baja Arizona that it’s a resource worth mastering. Unsprayed backyard citrus is really a two-in-one deal because you can utilize both the juice or flesh and the skin. When I’m juicing backyard citrus or planning to eat the flesh, I always try to zest it first. (You can expect that supermarket citrus is waxed and/or sprayed, which can make using the skin a lot less appealing.) I either rub the zest into an equal amount of kosher or sea salt and let it dry on a plate on the counter or spread it in a thin layer on a parchment-lined pan in the oven overnight. Citrus salt is great as a finishing salt on things like popcorn, roasted vegetables, or brownies. Plain-dried zest can be used as a flavoring agent in all of your cooking and baking. Try stirring lime zest into your favorite banana bread recipe or adding a bit of lemon zest to your lentil soup.

What follows are both sweet and savory everyday recipes to put citrus at the center of your table this winter. However, I’d urge you to play and figure out what you like to do with what you have. Try preserving Meyer lemons in salt. It’s incredibly satisfying and almost impossible to mess up. Make a batch of lime curd and freeze it for the months to come. Experiment with making your own cocktail bitters with orange rind or infuse gin or vodka with thin slices of mandarinquats or kumquats. After freeing the pomelo fruit from its thick layer of pith, a friend of mine puts the pomelo skin in her bath. If you use vinegar for cleaning, infuse your citrus skins in vinegar rather than throwing them away. Having access to local citrus is such a rare luxury that it deserves some serious nose-to-tail tactics to use up every last bit.

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Lemon Cornmeal Financiers

Financiers are tiny, buttery almond cakes that get their name from the fact that they’re traditionally baked in small, rectangular molds that resemble gold bars. Mini muffin pans make a more practical stand-in for the specialty pan. The cakes are rich, but not too sweet and the bright lemon flavor provides the perfect counterpoint for the nutty brown butter.

One of my ultimate kitchen pet peeves is leftover egg whites. I think egg white omelets are an egregious culinary crime, so when I make something like lemon curd that calls for a number of yolks, it’s nice to have a recipe like this to easily and deliciously use up the whites. These little cakes are leavened by the egg whites and baking soda, but the whites don’t have to be whipped, just whisked together until incorporated and foamy.

Lemon Cornmeal Financiers
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Lemon Cornmeal Financiers
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Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Stir together almond flour, powdered sugar, salt, cornmeal, and baking powder in a large bowl.
  2. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. It will crackle and pop. It’s done when golden flecks just begin to appear on the bottom of the pan. As it heats it will get foam on the surface, so you may need to tilt and swirl the pan slightly to see the bottom.
  3. Remove the butter from the heat and pour into the dry ingredients, using a spatula to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the lemon zest and vanilla, stirring until fully combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites just until foamy. They don’t need to be white or whipped, just whisked together. Finally, stir the egg whites into the batter. Spoon the batter into lined mini muffin tins to fill ¾ of the way. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until just golden brown.
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Lemon Curd

At least once a winter, I make lemon curd and have big plans for it. I figure I’ll put it on toast or maybe ice cream. Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially ambitious, I think I might make a tart. What inevitably happens each time is that I eat it all directly from the jar with a spoon. This recipe is meant to be a companion to the financiers. They make an ideal pairing, but most important this uses the three yolks that the financiers leave behind.

Many lemon curd recipes use a double boiler. If you want to be extra cautious you can, but I find it isn’t absolutely necessary. With a relatively heavy-bottomed pan over low heat, you shouldn’t have a problem. I still strain the finished product through a fine mesh strainer to ensure a super smooth final texture. If you use Meyer lemons for this, it’s likely you’ll want to reduce the amount of sugar. If that’s the case, mix together the juice and about half the amount of sugar to start out with, adding more to taste, then whisking in the egg yolks.

Lemon Curd
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Lemon Curd
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  1. Off the heat, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, and egg yolks until smooth. Place the saucepan over low heat, whisk the butter into the mixture one piece at a time, until each piece is melted. Once the butter is melted, turn the burner up to about medium low and keep whisking constantly.
  2. Cook until the curd has noticeably thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. It will continue to thicken to a spreadable consistency as it cools. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate until ready to use.
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Lime, Cardamom, and Rosewater Posset

Possets have all of the criteria that help a treat earn a spot in my regular rotation. First, possets (originally a hot drink dating from the Middle Ages) have an adorable name. They’re British! Second, they have an element of mad science. There are three ingredients—lime juice, sugar, and cream—that somehow turn into a tart, rich custard with the dreamiest texture. The simplified version of why the cream thickens perfectly instead of curdling is that the higher fat content inhibits the milk proteins from forming curds. Heating the cream helps bolster the set. The third and most important criterion is that they couldn’t be easier to make.

If rosewater and cardamom aren’t your thing, consider dressing these up with vanilla extract or letting the bright lime flavor shine all on its own. I always recommend folks add rosewater to taste because a little goes a long way. In my opinion, you have just the right amount of rosewater when you can definitely smell it and just barely taste it. If you’re looking for the good stuff, my favorite brand of rosewater is Nielsen Massey.

Lime, Cardamom, and Rosewater Posset
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Lime, Cardamom, and Rosewater Posset
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Instructions
  1. Bring the cream and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Choose a pan that’s slightly larger than you think you’ll need because the cream is apt to boil over. Boil for 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent it from boiling over. This is a stand-at the-stove-and-watch situation.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice, cardamom, and rosewater. Let cool for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You’ll begin to notice the mixture thicken. Divide evenly between six small bowls and refrigerate until set.
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Grapefruit Salsa

I can be a little skeptical of fruit salsas, but I think there’s a case to be made for grapefruit salsa. Like tomatoes, red grapefruits have sweetness, acidity, and ample juice. Plus, deep in the tomato off-season, it makes a lot of sense to try a salsa made of something that’s at its seasonal peak. It’s a little meticulous, but worthwhile to peel the thin membrane from the outside of the grapefruit sections. Not only will your final product be prettier, but the texture will also be much more similar to salsa. Although this tastes great as soon as you make it, letting it sit for a few hours in the fridge gives the flavors time to meld. Finish this off with a generous pinch of dried ground chipotle powder to add a bit of heat and smoke. If you happen to get a grapefruit that isn’t as juicy as you had hoped, add a squeeze of lime juice.

Grapefruit Salsa
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Grapefruit Salsa
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  1. Combine the grapefruit, garlic, onion, and cilantro in a medium bowl, tossing to combine. Add salt and chipotle to taste and refrigerate until ready to serve. 
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Sour Orange Carnitas

Adapted from Diana Kennedy

I have been loyal to Diana Kennedy’s carnitas recipe for a number of years now. It’s hands-off, simple, and stunningly good. I’ve made her recipe, which allows the pork to braise, then brown, in its own fat, to the letter probably 20 times, but I finally decided to tinker a bit and the results were fantastic.

The juice from sour oranges, which are widely landscaped in Tucson, make a great marinade for any type of meat. If you don’t have sour oranges in your yard or a friend who does they can be difficult to source commercially, but a combination of orange and lime juice makes a suitable stand-in. Whisking up this citrusy, garlicky marinade for the pork makes a good thing even better. On practical note, I tend not to trim any fat off my pork butt unless it has a particularly large and thick layer because it will almost all end up rendering out. However, if you prefer to trim it a bit that’s fine, just keep in mind that you’re not adding any additional oil, so the meat needs its own fat to cook in.

Sour Orange Carnitas
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Sour Orange Carnitas
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Instructions
  1. Put the garlic, salt, and juice in a gallon Ziploc bag. Add the cut pork, seal the bag, and tilt the bag to evenly distribute the marinade. Place the bag flat on a dish or plate and refrigerate to marinate at least four hours or up to overnight.
  2. Add one cinnamon stick and one bay leaf to a large, wide pot. Pour the contents of the bag into the pot and just barely cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a steady simmer.
  3. Depending on the size and shape of your pan, after about two hours, most of the liquid will be evaporated and a thin layer of fat will have rendered off of the pork. Lower the heat slightly and allow the pork to continue to cook in its own fat until brown. As the meat is browning, turn the pieces until they’re evenly browned on all sides, about an hour more.
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Autumn Giles is a freelance writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in Modern Farmer and Punch. She’s the author of Beyond Canning: New Techniques, Ingredients, and Flavors to Preserve, Pickle, and Ferment Like Never Before.







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