Monday, March 5, 2012

Inductive citrus peels

We also served these candied citrus peels at our anniversary party, and they were a hit, at least with one partygoer. I am nothing if not devoted to my fans, so by her request, here's the recipe. I must confess that I got this recipe from the internet somewhere, but it was so long ago that I don't remember the source. Sorry for plagiarising!

Our anniversary happens to be Texas independence day, which I didn't know until our wedding day, but our anniversary party was vaguely Texas-themed. OK, it wasn't very Texas-themed at all, but we did receive a bottle of Tito's vodka as a gift (thanks!), and the citrus fruits whose peels I candied were all Texan. The grapefruits were from the produce market here, but they were definitely Rio Star grapefruits (I don't bother with that junk from Florida), and the lemons, Meyer lemons, blood oranges, and tangerines were grown by my aunt, who lives between Houston and Galveston. Go Texas!

Anyway, I'm a big fan of making food out of stuff that would be thrown away, and these peels are delicious, if a little labor-intensive. When done right, they are slightly juicy, sweet, and a little bitter. I find that the grapefruit peels makes your mouth feel slightly numb if you eat a lot of them. Grapefruit is kind of a scary food, what with its interactions with medications and all, so I'm not surprised that it has some sort of weird nerve chemical in it. Despite all that, I sure can't quit grapefruit.

How to make candied citrus peels

1a) To prep grapefruit peels, just peel a grapefruit and cut the peel into strips, pith and all. I will allow myself to go on a tangent about how I think there's a vast media conspiracy, funded by the powerful grapefruit spoon/knife lobby, to suppress the idea that you can just peel a grapefruit like an orange and eat it. It's true! That's how we always do it, and it's much easier to harvest the peel if you eat it that way. Tangent over.

1b) To prep non-grapefruits, you'll need to remove the pith. I don't know why grapefruit pith is different from the other stuff, but it is, and the other stuff has yucky pith. I take a small, sharp paring knife, put the peel on the counter, zest side down, and, with the knife parallel to the counter, try to get it between the skin and pith. It's imperfect, but you don't have to get it all.

2) I prep the peels immediately after eating the fruit and then store them in jars in the fridge until I have enough to candy. At that point, I dump the peels in a saucepan, cover them with water, and bring to a boil. Then drain and repeat this process until you've boiled and drained 5 times. This removes a lot of the bitterness. Then cover with water and a bunch of sugar. I just kind of guess at the amount of sugar, but I'd say a 3:1 or 5:2 ratio of water:sugar is probably about right. Bring this all to a boil and boil uncovered for about two hours. This gets the peels nice and soft and sweet. The liquid gets syrupy, and it makes a nice citrus-flavored simple syrup to use in cocktails.

3) Now put the peels into glass jars and cover with syrup. Store in the fridge until you're ready to use them. When that time comes, you'll want to drain the peels on cooling racks for a while to get them dry enough to roll in sugar. The time varies based on the humidity of your apartment. In Houston, I would usually leave them for 18-24 hours, but here, I've found that as little as 8 hours will work. You want them to be tacky but not wet for optimal sugar-coating. Dry them zest side up to prevent them from getting overly dry on the pith side. You can also roll them in a combination of sugar and "sour salt" (citric acid powder) for sour-sweet peels. I'm not as fond of those, but Jon and some of our friends really like them. I'd say about a 4:1 ratio of sugar:citric acid is a good starting point.

A note on limes: I have a dickens of a time getting the pith off of the lime zest, so I just skip the limes most of the time. Candied lime peel is really good, though, and I used to go to the trouble for my lime-loving friend Carolyn, but now we don't live in the same city, so I don't.

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