Citrus is widely available throughout the year, which is why we sometimes forget that winter is peak season. If you live in a cold weather climate like I do (California and Florida, humor me for a moment), the invigorating hue of a blood orange or the juicy zing of a fresh grapefruit can almost make you forget a dreary day, or that you’re wearing all black—for the fourth day in a row.
Citrus also plays a vital role in our winter diet. Rich in vitamin C and phytonutrients, these sweet and tart fruits are said to support our immune system and even help defend against heart disease. Even if they didn’t, there’s no doubt that citrus fruits perk up soups, salads, fish, and meat. Read on for helpful tips on how to pick, store, and use winter’s main squeeze.
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How to pick:
Choose citrus with firm, taut skin that feels heavy for its size–a sign that there’s lots of juice inside. Avoid any fruit with noticeable soft spots or major blemishes. If planning on using the zest, I’d go for organic, if possible.
How to store:
Citrus fruits can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks. If you think the fruit could stand ripening a bit more, leave it on the counter for up to a week. But be aware that their skins can dry out if left out too long.
How to use:
Citrus fruits can be juiced, zested, segmented, and of course, devoured out of hand. If you’re not doing so already, keep those peels! Zests contain aromatic oils and concentrated flavor that give a huge flavor bomb to dressings, marinades, and baked goods. Just don’t zest too far in advance since the longer a peel sits out, the drier–and less fragrant–it will be.
When zesting and slicing segments, be careful not to include the pith (the white part between the vibrant colored peel and juicy, edible flesh), as that is the bitterest part of the fruit. For more detail on how to cut citrus, I like this tutorial on how to segment an orange from our friends at The Kitchn.
To extract as much juice as possible, roll the fruit around on a counter with the palm of your hand to soften it up. In a pinch, I’ve seen a cook grab his metal tongs and even a fork to juice a lemon, but I’d suggest buying a citrus reamer if you don’t have one. It’s inexpensive and makes the job a lot easier.
Lemons are a good cook’s secret weapon. Added to a dish, these highly acidic fruits brighten and heighten flavors. Next time you taste a dish and think it may need a bit more salt, try a little lemon instead and see what it does.
Meyer lemons are more seasonal than regular lemons, so splurge a little now if you can. A cross between a lemon and a sweet orange, Meyer lemons are prized for their sweet flesh, floral juice, and thin skin. They’re worth it.
I first tasted the traditional Greek Avgolemono (chicken-lemon soup) at the popular Snack Taverna in New York City, and now I dream about it every winter. Creamy, comforting, and brimming with lemon flavor, this Avgolemono Soup recipe at The Wicked Noodle (above) makes me feel like I’m back in that little taverna—minus the yelling kids in my kitchen.
For most of the year, I ignore the ubiquitous navel orange. But just like that, I’ll start to see a few other varieties pop up at the store and suddenly my whole family and I can’t get enough. And bonus: Besides a full serving of your daily vitamin C, oranges are also rich in fiber and folate.
Go for Cara Cara and blood oranges this time of year. With gorgeous pink and ruby hues and a more intense, but less acidic flavor, they’re both great additions to salads, fish, and even cocktails.
Made with three types of oranges, this Citrus Salad at The Yellow Table (above) is both vibrant in color and taste. Arugula, pistachios, and ricotta salata round out the dish for a fabulous flavor and texture.
Ruby Red are the most popular grapefruits, perhaps because they’re a bit sweeter and less acidic than their white counterparts. Pomelo, or Chinese, grapefruit are giant, soft green-ish orbs that have a more mellow grapefruit flavor. Peel off the thick, soft rind and membrane for a delicious, non-bitter treat.
I love the combination of citrus and seafood, especially in this Broiled Salmon with Grapefruit and Avocado at A Zesty Bite (above). Simple, healthy, and on the table in 20 minutes—all things we could use a little more of these days.
Mandarins and Kumkuats
Mandarins are a group of small citrus that includes the clementine (often marketed as “Cuties” at the grocery store), tangerine, and satsuma. They’re thin-skinned, mild flavored, and easy to peel, which makes them ideal for snacking. Tip: if you’re buying with kids in mind, go for the clementines. They’re seedless, while tangerines often are not.
The kumquat is a bit of an outlier: the pulp is sour but the skin is sweet. You can eat them whole (!) for a truly sweet and sour taste.
The anytime-of-day Glazed Tangerine Cake at It Bakes Me Happy (top) is a delicious twist on Ina Garten’s original Lemon Yogurt Cake (which is amazing, by the way). And if you want a super simple recipe (who doesn’t?), try these Salted Chocolate Dipped Mandarin Slices at Deliciously Yum (bottom).
Finally, if you’re looking for even more citrus inspiration, check out the hot of the press cookbook Sweet and Tart: 70 Irresistible Recipes with Citrus by Carla Snyder.