My first inclination upon opening the box of citrus was to sit down and have myself a citrus feast, but that would have been purely indulgent and more than a little irresponsible. After all, it's not everyday that I have access to such rare and exotic jewels with at least one, the malaysian lime, of ambiguous origin. Gene Lester tells me that he planted it many years ago from seeds brought back from Malaysia and speculates that it may be an Egyptian lime.
I felt it was important to document their characteristics, if only for my own reference, as that has already been done to a greater extent over at Citrus Pages. Many of the photos and much of the information on the website is based on the fruit that Mr. Lester grows. After photographing, collecting data, and preliminary tastings, I was ready to get cooking.
New products, especially those of exceptional quality, always incite my creative monkeys. But with so many avenues and so little fruit, I had to reign them in and focus on a preparation that would capture the essence of the individual cultivars— not just the flavor of the juice, but also the rich aroma of the rinds.
Ever since stumbling on yuzu gama, I've been fascinated with the concept. I'll admit that using citrus as a kettle is a romantic notion. But it's also a practical one: the porous rind insulates, breathes, and permeates the contents with aroma.
The first thing I learned was that not all citrus make suitable cooking vessels. Those with bitter albedos— lemons, limes, grapefruit— impart unpleasant bitterness.
And yet those with thin, tender rinds— kumquats, clementines, mandarins— are surprisingly palatable and can be eaten along with the contents. Many of the fruits that I was given were petite— just the right size to snugly hold a scallop.
The Thomasville citrangequat (below left) is a cross between an orange and a kumquat. Like the kumquat, it has a sweet rind and tart pulp, though the fruit is larger (about 2" diameter), and the pulp is sweeter. After cutting off the top and bottom and removing the pulp, I steamed the rind for a few minutes to soften it. A scallop was stuffed into the citrus band and seared on both sides. The cintrangequat juice was reduced with saffron and blended with egg yolk and olive oil to form a mayonnaise that accompanies the scallop and steamed baby artichoke. The bright, fresh rind cut through the richness of the scallop and brought to mind the evanescence of spring.
The Silverhill mandarin (below right) is an Unshu satsuma with a rich, sweet flavor and aroma. It was hollowed out (an easy task as the pulp separates easily from the rind), stuffed with a scallop, seasoned with salt, szechuan pepper, a dab of butter and a sprinkle of its juice, then sous vide at 50ºC for 40 minutes. The scent escaping from the opened bag was incredible. It was glazed with a sauce made from the juices in the bag, reduced with the rest of the mandarin juice and mounted with sweet butter. Served with crumbled, dehydrated Cerignola olives and pureed black garlic, it made a sweet and resonant autumnal starter; rind and all.
Over the winter, my quasi-obsession with citrus has been interlaced with an increasing interest in old-school terrines, though up until now nothing has materialized.
For this terrine, I chose the Temple tangor, a cross between a tangerine and orange, because it was the largest specimen with a sweet rind. The hollowed out tangor was filled with a cylinder of foie, surrounded by black truffles folded into prepared sweetbreads (soaked, blanched, cleaned, pressed, seasoned), and bound with transglutaminase. The terrine was cooked sous vide at 65ºC for 90 minutes, pressed overnight, and sliced. Again, the mingled scents of foie, truffles and orange was not to be believed.
Other components are: pickled beet with tangor sections, brioche crouton, and a leaf of liquid salad made from watercress fluid gel, finished with olive oil and lemon juice.
Note: Although the rind of the tangor was sweet, it was a bit leathery. I had hoped that it would have softened more than it did in the sous vide process. If I were to repeat this dish— which I intend to (perhaps with a pate de campagne), I would precook the rind. Alternately, the rind could be used as a scented mold.
*Admittedly, foie, truffles and sweetbreads were rather decadent ingredients to experiment with, but these were left over from a job.
I don't recall the last time that I made a proper cassoulet, but I remember the first. It was after reading Paula Wolfert's "The Cooking of Southwest France" sometime in the mid 80's and feeling an overwhelming need to be connected to that place and its food. It was my introduction to duck confit, pork braised in milk, and the wantonly rich cassoulet. For years, I looked forward to the winter ritual that began with making lamb stock on a Friday night and culminated with a liberal topping of bread crumbs and duck fat on a Sunday afternoon. The crust was always the deal-breaker.
This cassoulet-inspired dish features Gigante beans cooked in duck stock, duck confit, and Cara Cara orange* segments, layered and baked together in the orange rind. The crust is a variation on chicken skin croquant, substituting duck skin, and dusted with orange zest and parsley.
*Cara Cara is a navel orange, a mutation that naturally occurred on a Washington navel orange tree, with sweet pink pulp. It was not in the box of citrus that chef Kinch sent me but I needed a fruit large enough to hold an entree-sized serving. Unlike the other dishes, this rind is used for aroma and presentation, not to be eaten.