Chefs are finally seeing the bright side of citrus fruits.
Long relegated to ornamentation or an extra spritz of acidity to completed dishes, diners’ growing affection for cuisines rich with acidic and sweet-sour flavors have broadened the appeal of citrus across all demographics.
According to foodservice research firm Technomic, citrus fruit usage in U.S. restaurants has risen 15.6 percent from 2012 to 2017, including a 19 percent increase for blood oranges and 9 percent for bergamot within the last year.
Winter is the best time to start squeezing, as it’s the season when citrus fruits yield the most juice and richest flavors. Versatile intensity and acidity lends to creativity, whether it’s dressing up healthy dishes, spiking raw bar options or evolving bestsellers like steak and lamb.
“During the winter months, diners tend to get bored to death of the same old stuff,” says Chef Alex Harrell of Angeline in New Orleans. “Citrus can make familiar wintertime dishes pop, creating
bursts of flavor and color in surprising ways.”
Show Some Skin
Citrus prices dip during the winter months, but Chef Anthony Lamas squeezes food costs by making use of peels and piths at Seviche in Louisville, Kentucky.
By extracting pungent oils from leftover lemon skins with a simple handheld citrus juicer, Lamas says the oil has a “magical effect” by pulling out the essential juices from other vegetables and working as a tenderizer for winter proteins. He marinates lamb shanks with lemon oil, peels and juice, rosemary, olive oil, garlic and chipotles, then sous vides the mix before the shanks are braised.
“The citrus flavors really wake things up,” he says. “Diners know it’s a winter dish, but they can feel and taste the summertime in it.”
At Eden in Chicago, Chef Devon Quinn marries beef with bergamot, a striking electric green or yellow fruit whose perfume smells like a flowering citrus tree. His bavette steak gets paired with a vermouth-spiked, charred Vidalia onion and bergamot salsa verde made from bergamot puree, shallots, celery, orange bits, lime and spices, all of which is anchored with a sprig of bitter bergamot pith.
“The scent is so strong you can almost taste it,” Quinn says. “Diners love it because memories are evoked through the olfactory senses. It literally takes people to Sicily and Asia.”
Citrus has skyrocketed on menus with these types leading the pack.
70% Yuzu 67% Cara Cara Orange 42% Preserved Lemon
*Source: Datassential’s Menu Trends 2017 survey showing increases over the last four years.
Preserve and Protect
Preserving citrus fruits can be labor intensive, but Chef Michael Harvey of Lowcountry Bistro in Charleston, South Carolina, says it’s worth it. Creating what he calls the perfect “harmony of
sweet and sour,” he uses preserved citrus to brighten everything from butter-braised crab to crudo.
“Preserving lemons is extremely economical,” he says. “I’ve personally stored them for up to three months.”
Harvey boils lemons in water to remove the wax and cuts them into paper-thin slices. Using a hotel pan, he lays down a base layer of sugar, spice, brunoise garlic and shallot, then adds a row of lemons. The mix sits for up to three days, gets flipped, rests for another couple of days, then is rinsed and stored in olive oil.
At Sazzy B in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Chef Mary Radigan prefers creating grapefruit curd by thickening reduced grapefruit juice with eggs, sugar, butter and grapefruit zest using a double boiler. The resulting pudding—which softens grapefruit’s bitterness—works to cut through a rich prosciuttowrapped monkfish with pork belly.
“When people say they don’t like strong fish flavors, what they’re really saying is they don’t want to taste all the fat in a fish,” she says. “Increasing the acidity in a dish can help, especially if you create something creamy with a nice mouthfeel.”
Colorful arrays of oranges can infuse bright summer hues into drab wintertime presentations, adding complex undercurrents of sugar-kissed bitterness. Experimenting with seafood is a good
place to start, especially by swapping in oranges where you might otherwise use lemons.
Chef Jamie Adams of Il Giallo in Atlanta gilds shrimp scampi with blood orange juice and segments, creating a flavor profile that hovers between mandarins and bitter grapefruit. When servers carry the dish’s dramatic reddish-pink color through the dining room, heads turn.
Blood orange mignonette transforms stone-white scallops on the half shell into a striking crimson hue at Salt Traders Coastal Cooking in Round Rock, Texas. Shellfish skeptics became instant believers, increasing raw bar sales.
“We started testing them a few months ago, and they received such a great reaction we had to find a way to bring them back,” says Chef Chris Ten Eyck. Bold citrus colors also appeal to health-conscious diners. At True Food Kitchen, which has locations nationwide, Chef Michael Sullivan folds orange and grapefruit segments into a chunky guacamole made with black Tuscan kale, avocado, garlic, scallions and poblano peppers.
“A lot more people are looking at the health benefits of food, but they want the food to taste good as well,” says Sullivan, True Food’s manager of culinary standards. “Citrus is the answer. It makes colors pop on a plate and opens up people’s palates.”
Photography by Vicki Liley