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From Buddha's hands and citrons to kumquats and Seville oranges, the definitive guide to citrus.
Winter is when most citrus fruits are at their sweetest—and when you'll find your grocery store produce aisle bursting with options from heirloom navel oranges and sweet limes to Meyer lemons and satsumas. It's the perfect time to brush up on your citrus know-how.
Buying: "The buying notes for citrus will always be the same,"says Kate Galassi, cofounder of Quinciple, a New York‚Äìbased company that works with local farmers and food purveyors to curate a weekly box. She suggests you choose fruit that feels heavy for its size and has bright, glossy skin that doesn't look faded or dry. Citrus should also be pretty firm, with the exception of Meyer lemons, which have thinner skins and are a bit more yielding to the touch.
Food writer Eugenia Bone adds that color isn't a great way to choose citrus, which can sometimes be injected with artificial coloring. Instead, focus on feel and smell. "If you don't get slammed with a wonderful aroma, then don't buy it," she advises.
Storing: Most of the citrus you find in stores is waxed to give it a longer shelf life. At home, citrus can be stored on the counter for a few days, and will keep for at least a week and up to a month in the refrigerator.
Prepping: If you're planning to use the zest or the peel, make sure to wash the fruit well to get rid of as much wax as possible. Some citrus fruits—notably Buddha's hand lemons and citron—are primarily used for their zest and/or skin. If you will be using both the zest and juice of a fruit, zest it first, then squeeze.
If you want beautiful segments for desserts, fruit salads, or pan sauces, your best bet is supreming, a technique that involves cutting away all the peel and pith of the fruit, then slicing along the membranes to free the perfect, pith-free wedges. Be sure to squeeze the leftover membranes as they will hold quite a bit of juice.
ORANGE YOU GLAD WE SET YOU STRAIGHT? CLOCKWISE FROM TOP RIGHT: SWEET LIME, STANDARD LEMON, MEYER LEMON; SATSUMA, STARLIGHT TANGERINE; BLOOD ORANGE, JUICE ORANGE, CARA CARA NAVEL ORANGE, HEIRLOOM NAVEL ORANGE
Common and Not-So-Common Citrus
Meyer lemons: Your garden-variety lemons actually peak in summer, but Meyer lemons, which are a hybrid of true lemons and either an orange or a mandarin, come in during the winter months. Because Meyers tend to be sweeter and less acidic than regular lemons, they don't always pair as well with savory dishes. Olive oil infused with Meyer lemon peel (just let them sit in a jar for several days, then strain it out) is one of my very favorite ingredients.
Kumquats: These bite-size fruits with sweet, edible peels and tart flesh come into season in late winter. Originally from Asia, the kumquats we eat today come primarily from Florida. Eat them whole—skin and all—preserve the whole fruits in sugar syrup, or add them to savory dishes. Try also mandarin kumquats, which are a bit larger but just as tartly puckery. Jade and I love to eat them out of hand as a snack and I also love to make kumquat jam to serve on buttered toast.
Oranges: These days you'll find a confusing array of oranges even in supermarket produce aisles, but there are a few main types. Oranges or sweet oranges, thought to be a hybrid between a mandarin and a pomelo, include navel oranges, cara caras, and blood oranges. Bitter oranges, like Seville oranges, are best for making marmalade, while mandarin oranges—satsumas, tangerines, clementines, pixies, mineolas, and so on—are often smaller than oranges, easy to peel, and ideal for snacking. Thin-skinned juice oranges have the highest ratio of flesh to peel, making them best for juicing or quartering to suck on, Marlon Brando style.
Citron: A citron looks like a larger, uglier, nubbier lemon and is known for its thick rind, which is great for candying. The pulp and the juice inside are negligible. Buddha's hand is a particularly unique type of citron with a profusion of fingers. It's fun to look at, but rather challenging to cook with.
Grapefruits: Grapefruits typically come from either Texas or Florida and can be white-, pink-, or ruby-fleshed. The darker varietals, like Ruby Red, are generally smaller and sweeter. Don't overlook the peel, which, Galassi suggests, is great in a Campari spritzer or gin and tonic.
Limes: Less sour than lemons, limes range in size and sweetness. Key limes are smaller and more acidic than Persian (standard) limes, while kaffir limes, also known as makrut limes, are known for their fragrance and both the fruit and the leaves are widely used in Thai cuisine. Sweet limes, which look a lot like Meyer lemons, are pretty hard to find— and, true to their name, they are super sweet. Finger limes are a specialty food with tiny beads of flesh inside.They are uncommon but fun to play with if you find one in your market.