By the time January rolls around, winter cooking styles begin to feel a little heavy and I am ready for something with some zing! Oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and limes to the rescue. It's the high tide of citrus season and it's going to last for another month or so. There is a great little tool called a zester that is specifically designed to take off just the outer citrus peel and leave the bitter white pith on the fruit. I get a blast of citrus aromatherapy every time I do this, and sometimes a nice little aerosol spray of citrus oil on my forearms. With the right angle and a little thumb pressure, the tool shaves along causing lovely long strands of peel to pile up on the table.
I have learned the hard way to take the zest off before juicing the fruit. Zesting a flabby citrus shell is frustrating and usually not very productive. Another zesting trick is to move the tool in vertical strokes down the side of the citrus, rotating it just a bit after each stroke until the entire fruit is bald. Of course some citrus are better candidates for this process than others. Generally oranges with a very firm skin like navels or cara cara work best. Limes, grapefruit, and regular lemons also zest well. There are lots of reasons to choose organic citrus over conventional, but when it comes to using the peel, organic definitely makes more sense. Sometimes dye is injected into conventional oranges to enhance their color and it’s not unusual for them to be coated with a petroleum-based wax to protect them from bruising.
How do I use zest, let me count the ways! I always add it at the end of a recipe and prefer not to cook it so the flavor stays really bright. However adding it to baked treats like muffins doesn't seem to dilute the flavor at all. Veggie or grain salads, are my favorite places to sprinkle a little zest, and it's really nice partnered with crème fraiche as a soup garnish.