The zesty flavor and sunny color of citrus fruit can punch up a salad dressing, enhance a marinade, or turn the simplest drink into something special. Lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit are the shining stars of the citrus family, widely available at this time of year. You can use both the zest and juice of limes and lemons to enliven a variety of dishes. These fruits can also be used in chicken, pork, and fish dishes as well as pilafs.
Here’s how to squeeze the most out of citrus: Shop wisely. Choose fruits that are heavy for their size and that have firm, smooth skin. Avoid buying fruit that appears wrinkled or bruised. At home, store lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, and clementines for up to 1 week at room temperature or in a tightly sealed bag in the refrigerator, where they will last for up to 3 weeks. Store grapefruit for a few days at room temperature or wrapped in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for two weeks.
Get the best from your zest. To grate citrus zest, wash and dry the fruit. Next, using either a Microplane or box grater, grate just the colored part of the peel (not the white pith), rotating the fruit as you go, so you don’t grate an area more than once. Use the zest in marinades and salad dressings, as a last-minute addition to soups and stews, and sprinkled on fruit desserts.
Juice it right. When you’re juicing a lemon, lime, or orange, be sure it’s at room temperature. Rolling it on the countertop for a few seconds is an effective (and low-tech!) way to get more juice. Cut the fruit in half and then use a handheld citrus reamer or a glass citrus juicer, if you have one, or simply hold the fruit over a bowl and squeeze each half to extract the juice. You can also get juice from the membranes (see Segment smart, below).
Segment smart. Remove a thin slice from both sides of the fruit, using a sharp knife. Place the fruit on the work surface. Next, remove the peel and the white pith by sliding a knife along the curve of the fruit. Cut into the fruit, between the membranes. This will release the individual segments. Working over a bowl allows you to catch the juices of the fruit. Next, squeeze all the juice from the membranes into the bowl.
Jazz up a marinade. Whisk 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon, lime, or orange juice, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 finely minced shallot, 1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme, a pinch of sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Use for chicken or fish.
Vary your vinaigrette. Replace white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar with lemon or lime juice in a variety of salad dressings. For an easy vinaigrette for a mixed green salad, whisk 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice, 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, a pinch of kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Dress your salad with no more than 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette.
Make over your mayo. For a flavorful mayonnaise, combine 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill, and 1/2 cup of low-fat, light, or regular mayonnaise. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Use as a sandwich spread or a dip for chicken fingers, limiting a serving to 2 tablespoons of the lighter mayo and 1 tablespoon of regular.
Prepare a citrus tea. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from 1 lemon and 1 lime, making sure the pieces are about 1/2-inch wide. Place the strips of zest into your teapot the next time you are brewing tea, and let them steep for about 5 minutes with the tea. Remove the zest before serving the tea, which you can enjoy hot or chilled. Either way, garnish with lemon slices.