Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Savory Flavors with Citrus

When you think of cooking with citrus, your mind may drift happily toward thoughts of luscious, sweet, beautiful, and, all right, highly caloric desserts. Well, who can blame you? In a world of key lime pies, orange almond cakes, lemon bars, chocolate-covered orange peels, and grapefruit meringue pies, it can be a little hard to concentrate on other options.

But the thing about citrus is, it’s an incredibly versatile and useful ingredient in all kinds of dishes—not just sweet ones. In fact, when we look back to ancient cookery books, we largely see lemon and oranges included as ingredients in preparations like soups, meats, and stews.

You see, due to their high acidity, citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, and tangerines actually have the ability to physically intensify the flavor of food, adding a “zing” that really wows the palate. It’s so effective at this task that citrus is often relied on in low-salt recipes to make food “bright” and flavorful while keeping sodium levels low.

One dish that benefits marvelously from citrus is the green salad, which has been part of our tables for thousands of years. When combined with oil and salt, (and, optionally, other ingredients), citrus juices can create the classic vinaigrette-style dressing that has been used on green salads and cooked vegetables of all types since Greek and Roman times. Citrus vinaigrettes go especially well with salads made with fruits and root vegetables, such as beets.

Marinades are another timeless use of citrus in savory foods. An acidic marinade made of orange or other citrus juices will tenderize meat at the same time as it adds flavor, freshness, and zing. And did you know that marinating your meat actually makes it healthier by reducing the chance that your meat will char? (Blackened meat contains more cancer-causing substances.) This Citrus-Marinated Flank Steak looks absolutely delectable for those of you who enjoy a good slab of red meat. Or, this Citrus Marinated Roasted Chicken is simple, but aromatically rich and flavorful, especially on a cold night.

Of course, many sauces eaten with meat also make use of this incredibly versatile ingredient. Citrus can pair with hearty red meat, as in this recipe for Spareribs Simmered in Orange Sauce. Or you can go a bit lighter with a beloved (if not very traditional) favorite, Chinese Orange Chicken. Seafood with citrus is also a classic match, as in this recipe for Scallops with Orange-Butter Sauce. It even pairs perfectly with non-meat proteins like tofu, as can be seen in the many recipes for orange tofu or tangerine tofu. These Citrus-Tamari Tofu Steaks with Warm Satsumas and Rosemary look incredible, even if you’re not a strict vegetarian.

And if you really want to go all out, the classic but time-consuming preparation, Duck a l’Orange, has been around since at least the 16th century. The French and the Italians have been known to fight about who came up with this basic idea, but regardless of who invented it, it definitely involves a roasted duck, a lot of butter, and a delectable orange sauce.

A final fascinating dish that makes use of citrus’ unusual powers is ceviche. This is an ancient South American preparation, with some sources suggesting it dates back over 2000 years. In ceviche, raw fish or shellfish is marinated in orange, lime, or lemon juice, which denatures the proteins and gives the fish the texture and appearance of being cooked while maintaining freshness and flavor. It is very quick to prepare and quite a delicacy, though one must take care to use seafood that is extremely fresh and of high quality. Try this Orange-Basil Shrimp Ceviche or this Scallop Ceviche with Orange and Avocado today!