The Sweet & Sour of California Citrus
This time of year, a lot of lemons, limes, and oranges are moldering in fridges and fruit bowls. The problem: We have trouble realistically gauging how much of it and how quickly we can eat fresh. The temptation are so great at the market, we lumber home with sackfuls of the stuff. Or perhaps the trees in the backyard are dropping their yield faster than we can get to it…
This is the time of year my colleagues dump shopping bags full of Eureka and Meyer lemons on the newsroom table. Takers abound, even if they’re just adding to the piles at home.
I recently talked with Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s “Good Food,” for the California Report. She says the nature of citrus temptation has shifted over the last 10 years or so. “It seems that we’ve gone from just a couple of varieties, even in the farmers markets…Now, it’s just this complete rainbow.”
One quick glance at UC Riverside’s citrus variety collection, and you can see how vast the rainbow really is. Alphabetically, the list ranges from the Abhayapuri lime to the Zhuluan sour orange hybrid.
Because of this plethora of varieties – some of the fruit are sun worshipers, others are lovers of coastal cool – most Californians can enjoy hyper-locally grown citrus. Northerners at this time of year may be limited to lemons, because a mandarin takes forever to sweeten close to the coast. But travel to the inland counties of the Bay Area, and your host will be foisting bags of mandarins and oranges on you as you head out the door. Southern Californians enjoy citrus year-round, but let’s not dwell on that aromatic fact right now.
Fortunately, citrus is very versatile in the kitchen.
Squeeze the juice into cocktails and salad dressings, or in sauces both savory and sweet. Slice wedges and toss them into water glasses, or onto fish headed for the broiler. Kleiman likes citrus on meat, too. For example:
Evan’s version of Mark Bittman’s Pot Roast with Cranberries without the Cranberries
2 pound boneless chuck in one or two big pieces
Enough Sugar for dredging
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Sherry Vinegar
1 juicy orange
2 cups “Mediterranean” Apricots or Pitted Dates, or Pitted Prunes
2 onions, peeled and sliced (optional)
2 garlic cloves
1 cup tomato sauce (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°.
Heat heavy ovenproof casserole over high heat. Place sugar on plate. Dredge meat in sugar on all sides. When oil is hot add meat to pan. Allow the meat to become deeply caramelized to a dark brown, turning it as necessary with tongs to allow browning everywhere. When the meat is browned add the vinegar to the pan and deglaze, scraping underneath the meat to get at the dark bits. Remove from heat.
Squeeze the juice from the orange onto the meat and throw in the squeezed halves for flavor. Add the garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste and the dried fruit. If you want a more traditional eastern European flavor add the optional onions and tomato sauce. Cover pot, place in 375° oven and cook meat for a minimum of 2 hours or until fork tender.
Kleiman’s currently obsessed with the Rangpur lime. It’s orange on the outside and inside, but it’s “limier than the limiest lime that you can imagine.” She’s taken to preserving them in salt. That “transforms the peel into something luscious and edible, and it mellows out the bitterness.”
This treatment works well with lemons, too. My two favorite ways to prepare them are with crab and pasta or as the Secret Ingredient in David Lebovitz’s Israeli Couscous with Butternut Squash & Preserved Lemons. (OK, if the ingredient is in the title of the dish, maybe it’s not that secret.) My next citrus adventure is no doubt the recipes for pound cake with lemon curd and berries, found on the food blog of Kleiman’s producer, Gillian Ferguson. The name of that blog? I Have Lemon Tree.
I also called up California’s maven of mandarins, guru of grapefruit, leading light of lemons … David Karp, at UCR’s Department of Botany. I can’t type as fast as he can talk, so I’ll limit myself to his latest obsession, the Dekopon, a Japanese hybrid of mandarin and orange you may spot in the market labeled as “Sumo.” Karp says they’re at their best this time of year and more widely available than they were just last year, when they were introduced. Karp’s review: “Intense aroma, easy to peel, gossamer thin membranes, flesh firm at first bite but then melts in your mouth, very sweet and tart at the same time.”
I don’t about you, but I’m sold on the Sumo. In fact, I’m ending this post now, so I can go out and get some.