Chefs know that acid is one of the essential elements of good cooking— and it often comes in the form of citrus. Of course you can find lemons, limes, and oranges year-round but they are tastier, more abundant and less expensive during the colder months. And despite lemonade’s popularity as a summer quencher, winter is actually peak citrus season.
The same holds true for rarer citrus, like Meyer lemons, red grapefruits, tangelos, and bergamots, which are available almost exclusively during the colder months. It’s also the best time to find Asian citrus fruits like calamansi, yuzu, satsuma, and kumquat, which are appearing with more frequency on restaurant menus according to Nation’s Restaurant News.
That’s because citrus is especially versatile. All parts of the fruit like the zest, juice, and flesh can enliven both savory and sweet dishes on a cold day. It also adds a kick of Vitamin C to boost the immune system when we need it most in the winter. More importantly, though, citrus adds a tangy contrast to rich foods. Here are a few ways to create citrus recipes with the season’s bounty:
Invigorate your next batch of pancakes, crepes, waffles, or muffins by grating some zest into the batter. At lunchtime, a touch of citrus peel makes condiments like vinaigrette, pesto, crème fraîche, or mayonnaise sing. The usual suspects like orange, limes, and lemons are perfect candidates, but also consider experimenting with the herbaceous scent of sweet Meyer lemons or the bitter brightness of grapefruit. Zest also adds an ideal contrast to seafood dishes like fried shrimp and calamari (add it right to the batter), crab cakes, and steamed clams or mussels.
Swap out lemon or vinegar in a chicken, pork, or steak marinade recipe in favor of more exotic citrus like sour orange or floral yuzu. Or use citrus to preserve fish by adding the zest to a gravlax-style rub of salt and sugar or using juice like in this Bon Appetit recipe for Japanese-style cured salmon. Even easier, make an improvised sauce with pan drippings, wine, and citrus juice that elevates seared meats.
While citrus has long been the vital acidic element to many salad dressings, it can also take center stage when paired with herbs, nuts, and another crunchy component. Think halved kumquats (the small, spherical citrus with edible skin) and thinly sliced calamansi (a sour fruit beloved in Filipino cuisine) or yuzu tossed with chopped almonds and an herb sauce or blood orange segments paired with pistachios, pomegranate, or thinly sliced fennel. Velvety avocado beautifully complements grapefruit or pomelo. All of these combinations can stand on their own as a light starter or make the ideal accompaniment to fish.
Adding citrus to sweets is a no-brainer— just pull out your favorite sweet citrus recipes like lemon meringue or Key lime pie and try making them with a new-to-you fruit instead. Baked goods like shortbread, coconut macaroons, cakes, or any sweet bread gets a kiss of sunshine when zest is folded into the dough. And sweet takes on citrus are also easy to preserve in the form of marmalades, curds, sorbets, and even candied citrus peels dipped in chocolate.
For another tasty trend, find out how grain bowls are shaking up the way we eat. Read here.
Looking to try winter season’s citrus fruits?