Use Citrus in Cooking

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citrus_cWhile most of the nation shivers under winter's chill, Florida harvests its citrus sunshine. Look for navel oranges, ruby red grapefruit, tangerines and tangelos to be plentiful and relatively inexpensive in supermarkets and produce stands. Remember: when shopping for citrus, bigger isn't better.


By Charlotte Balcomb Lane

When shopping for citrus, bigger isn't better, said C. Jack Hearn, a citrus specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Orlando. Smaller fruit usually has more intense flavor than large fruit, he explained. And in general, you should ignore the color of the peel. Bright orange fruit doesn't taste better than fruit that hasa yellow or speckled skin.

You can almost choose fruit with your eyes closed, selecting those that feel dense and heavy in your hands. Heavy fruit is juicier and more flavorful.


Here's a guide to citrus and how to use it in recipes:

Grapefruit

The crop of pink, red and white grapefruit is bountiful, and the fruit is sweet and luscious. Color is not an indicator of sweetness, and white grapefruit are no sweeter or more sour than pink or red varieties. Most types can be used interchangeably for juicing, or to cut in half and eat for snacks with a grapefruit spoon. (Star ruby grapefruit, a type of dark, red-fleshed fruit, is too crunchy to eat easily with a grapefruit spoon.)

Florida grapefruit are easy to peel and excellent for sectioning. Use three colors of grapefruit to make a rainbow fruit salad, or add to ambrosia or spinach, avocado and red onion salad.

Hamlin orange

These medium-size oranges have a smooth, thin peel and few seeds. They range in color from deep yellow to true orange. They are tart and best for juicing but also can be peeled for sectioning. Use in fruit salads or add fruit and juice to baked or grilled chicken.

Pineapple orange

These are medium-size, seedy oranges used mostly for juicing. The juice is brightly colored and tart-sweet. It tastes delightful in yogurt-fruit breakfast smoothies, alcohol-free mocktails and in mixed drinks.

Valencia orange

These are the queen of Florida's juice oranges, but they're seldom available until March. The medium-size fruit has a sturdy peel and juice that is tart-sweet and deeply colored. Section or slice the fruit and use it in salads, pancakes or duck a l'orange.

Navel orange

These extra-large oranges are perfect for packing in brown-bag lunches or picnic baskets. The sturdy, pebbled rind makes the fruit easy to peel and section. The sweet flavor is an excellent addition to salads and salad dressings. Add peeled sections to yogurt or whole-grain breakfast cereal or chop sections and mix with jalapeno peppers and cilantro to make a sweet-hot salsa for fish or grilled chicken.

Ambersweet orange

This delightful new variety was developed in Orlando in 1989, so trees are still too young to bear much fruit. But if you see Ambersweet oranges in the market, buy them. They are almost as large as naval oranges, with an easy-to-peel skin and a tart-sweet, slightly spicy flavor. They have few seeds and plenty of juice. Use sections in fruit salads or arrange in a pinwheel atop a glamorous fresh orange tart. Add the sections to salad greens and toss with a honey, mustard and orange juice dressing.

Temple orange

These medium-size oranges have a deep orange color and a pebbly surface that is easy to peel. Inside, they're fairly seedy but delightfully sweet. Munch them out of hand or juice them to avoid the seeds. Use the juice in cocktails or breakfast drinks.

Tangelo

This specialty fruit is a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit. (The name comes from pomelo, the European term for grapefruit.) The fruit is fairly large, with an easy-peeling rind and few seeds. The deep orange flesh is best when peeled and eaten out of hand for lunch or snacks, but it also can be used for juicing. Section and toss with dates, grapes and honey to make a winter-fruit salad or sprinkle sections on top of pan-fried ham slices.

Sunburst tangerine

This variety is what most people envision when they think of a tangerine. The fruit is small, with a dark orange, loose rind that practically falls off the fruit. They have a bright, sweet, juicy flavor and plenty of seeds. Because they're easy to peel, these are great packed in lunch bags. Remove the seeds and toss sections in salads, layer in cakes or sprinkle over vanilla ice cream.

Honeybell tangerine

This exceptionally sweet, juicy and seedless fruit once grew under the name ''Minneola,'' but was changed to encourage consumers to try it. The season is only six to eight weeks long, so buy honeybells when you see them. They have a thin skin and usually bulge slightly at the stem end. Use sections in salads or dip them in real honey for dessert. They're great eaten in the afternoon for a pick-me-up.

Murcott

Honey tangerines have an unattractive, thin, light-orange peel but a great, sweet flavor. They are usually full of seeds but make excellent juice.

Meyer lemons

These large, thin-skinned lemons are seldom sold commercially, but the trees are popular for landscaping. So, if a neighbor offers some off a backyard tree, take them. They have abundant juice. They are sweeter than supermarket lemons, so they make excellent lemonade. Use the juice also in marinades, sauces and cakes and frostings.


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