Sunday, November 27, 2022

Simply irresistible citrus

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Peter Howard, ARR.News
Peter Howard, ARR.News
Peter Howard AM entertained us, for decades, as a Celeb Chef on TV, radio and through numerous columns. Lots of his content concentrated on the primary producers of Australia – he showed us what makes our food, wine and fish the best in the world. He not only did this at home but also around the world. He promoted Aussie Lamb in the USA with the AMLC for 6 years in the early 90s. Peter maintains his devotion for Aussie producers comes from his rural upbringing in Beaudesert where he learnt to respect our farmers. Now retired he still watches our rural activities with zest and appreciation.

As I drive around my Brisbane bayside suburb, Victoria Point, I notice large numbers of fruit laden citrus trees – lemons, oranges, grapefruit and mandarins.

Nothing says Winter like these vibrantly coloured fruits. So versatile. However, on my daily walk in this area, I can’t help but notice the huge amount of fruit on the ground where I suspect it will stay to rot.

That breaks my heart especially when we hear constantly about food shortages – certainly not that I have noticed in my supermarket, but still the dilemma, for me, is the wastage and I wonder if it is just easier for us to buy in one shopping spree or is it that we don’t have time to pluck these gorgeous fruits and use them?

“Tell him he’s old fashioned!” – I am and know it is because of my SE Queensland’s Beaudesert when the gifts from our fruit trees in the back yard were always used – not to mention my Mum’s amazingly delicious, preserved pears and peaches which we would greedily devour when ready. Mum would source these from Stanthorpe in summer, not winter, of course.

In modern living, we are ‘time poor’. I know that is a fact why so many of our eating habits have changed – but I also wonder if we know how to use the abundant winter citrus fruits we have at our fingertips. If you are lucky enough to have an orchard, good for you. For me it is the supermarket of mates with orchards. If you’ve inherited your Mum’s cook books or Grannies CWA cooks, as I have, you’ll have a superfluous number of inspirations from these collectibles. Then there are websites and your trusty search engines too.

A lemon tree, mostly in the backyard and sometimes featured in the front yard, was essential when I grew up – every house had one it seemed to me and a big bowl of these iridescent bubbly- skinned beauties provided a welcome aroma as you entered the house. They had numerous uses and my Mum would even clean her copper-based saucepans with half a lemon sprinkled with salt and indeed the copper bowls as well.

For me, as a retired cook/chef, it is the flavours and the zestiness that I most admire – of course when I started cooking (early 70s) the seasons were noticeable. Not anymore, although it is Winter now, and citrus is available in joyful abundance either in your backyard, fruit shops or the supermarkets. Nature does its bit to warn us to get ready for the cold weather.

An excessive lemon crop in my mate’s mini orchard in Maleny provided a windfall for me recently as I visited him. He was a Chef, and like me, hated waste and so unloaded bags of the lemons and other citrus onto me. I scooped them up with gusto.

As to their uses?

A lemon slice in a G&T tingles and teases the flavour buds; a lemon zest is rubbed around the rim of a suitable glass to prepare it for a dry Martini minus the olives and just the zest. I have squeezed juice into ice trays in the freezer; generally, one ice cube is worth a tablespoon or thereabouts.

Recently, the breakfast scrambled eggs were piqued with the finely grated zest of a lemon (I saw Maggie Beer do this once and it stuck with me and if Maggie says it’s ok…it’s OK).

I added the finely sliced lemon zest (julienned as you will know now but not a ‘chefie’ term used in my Mum’s CWA books) to butter loaded pan-fried Whiting fillets…or you can use grated lemon zest and they were just so good. Served with a splash of lemon juice (without pips please) and I had a stunning fish dish.

Mostly, I eat everything but I have never been able to get my palate around Avgolemono – the very famous Greek Egg and Lemon Soup…do you like it?

Then there is so much more to do with lemons.

The Greeks use lemon juice on roasted/chargrilled lamb and goat; I barbecue halved lemons on a hot grill to serve them grilled side up with barbecued lamb chops. Just scrumptious. Roasting chicken is enhanced with finely sliced lemon under the skin before roasting.

I could go on however I know there are sweets or desserts! Lemon Meringue Pies, Lemon Butter for tarlette fillings or for topping freshly baked scones. The famous Lemon Delicious pudding and then sometimes, with my rarely used ice cream maker, I churn out a simple and easy Lemon Sorbet.

These are only a few ideas for lemons, and I know you will go looking on your fav search engine to find many more ideas. There’s plenty of them.

BTW – don’t throw out lemon seeds but save them to use in making marmalade – a supreme source of pectin. Ensure you wrap them in a muslin cloth before adding to the cooking fruit.

Mandarins are delicious and I love them. Squeeze for juice with a difference.

Separate segments and freeze individually to add to a Campari and soda to replace ice cubes and orange slice and most importantly, do not discard the skin. Chinese stores have it already dried,

DIY. Dry the skins in the sun for around 6 -7 days and store. I use a small piece in a stir-fry. You will get to know how much you’ll need for a beef/lamb stew and the mellow tangy citrus overtones combine so well with Star Anise and cloves. Also add the dried skin to simmering corn beef water along with the usual suspects for this trad-dish.

Was there life before orange juice? I know you will say there wasn’t and now with the huge range of this Vitamin C loaded juice it would seem there wasn’t. Me I like to squeeze my own oranges at home, and nothing enhances a good orange juice like a splash of sparkling wine or a slug of Vodka.

Peeled and eaten in segments, they are refreshing tongue teasers and, as far a cooking goes, I love this vivid sliced flesh with chicken, and I think it is just right when combined with chives to form a crust.

Even uncooked it looks appetising but when baked, and the fructose has slightly coloured, it is just delicious. Serve whole warm and with a salad or, at this time of year, with steamed seasonal vegies; it is a dress up dish or a family favourite.

L-R: Orange/ chive crusted butterflied chicken, raw and cooked; Chicken Maryland on seasonal vegetables. Photos: Peter Howard

Orange segments or ‘fillets’ combine so well with fennel and celeriac. Once the fillets/segments have been removed from peeled fruit, retain the ‘bones’ and squeeze over a suitable receptacle between two side plates to extract the juice. Use the juice as a base for a vinaigrette. Whisk in salt, white pepper + some mustard (powdered or wet) before combining with an oil of your choice. The citrus flavour can be intensified by using the grated zest in the dressing. Where would life be without a microplane?

I love an Orange/Poppy seed cake – succulent and sweet with inviting texture; the famous Moroccan Orange/Almond cake is a delight and a good gluten free option. The Italian Orange/Polenta cake is so easy and eaten cooled or warm. Chilled Chocolate/Orange Mousse is a beauty and such a favourite. Who doesn’t love chocolate in any form? And with orange flavours, even better.

And for me, an orange in the afternoon is just the thing after my walk.

Don’t get me started on what you can do with the peel. For years I used to boil thinly sliced peel in a heavy sugar syrup until done – drain them and when near dried, toss in caster sugar. It’s a messy process but once the pieces are dunked in melted chocolate and set, they were stunning served with coffee or just eaten as they are.

Becoming a type 2 diabetic cured me of these favs of mine and my guests… selfish I know – I simply couldn’t resist them.

Just this morning I was on a grapefruit marmalade drive – my neighbours and I gathered and we sliced all the Ruby grapefruit we had. I think these beautifully tinted fruit are less acidic than regular yellow grapefruit. The sliced mellowing fruit is soaking now and tomorrow will be turned into irresistible marmalade and sold. The jars are permanent fund raisers in our little shop and the profits go to a local cancer relief fund.

I keep a jar here as a teaser for me with sourdough toast. There is an indefinable taste sensation when hot toast is topped with butter and the golden pithy marmalade.

In the myriad dishes that constitute Thai cuisine, there is a wonderful pomelo salad. This creamy lemon-coloured huge fruit looks like a swollen grapefruit. It must be peeled and segmented and the tiny bubbles of the segments teased out with your thumbs. However, I they’re hard to find here in the burbs and I’ll substitute Ruby grapefruit or regular grapefruit for the pomelo. Normally the ‘fruity fillets’ of grapefruit are combined with cooked chicken pieces, peeled prawns, multiple Thai herbs and toasted shredded coconut. Have a look on your search engine for recipe for this and you can extend this flavoursome salad with finely sliced Wombok (Chinese cabbage) if you like.

My Dad would halve grapefruit and remove the seeds and then sprinkle with white sugar and set in the refrigerator overnight. Next morning, it would be served just as it was before cereal. How many of you have a grapefruit knife? It is a serrated turned-up tip knife used to cut on the inside of the fruit.

Citrus fruits in all their majesty and versatility are one way to face up to the cold weather and I have one to two pieces each day in one way or another.

I live in the sub-tropics on Moreton Bay and this winter is way too cold for me, but I find the nutritious winter citrus one way of warming up (I guess maybe all in my imagination) and to my way of thinking, keeping me healthy.



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