10 Tips for Cooking with Citrus from Pros Around the Globe

January 22, 2016

Citrus may just be the world’s most popular fruit (don’t fact-check me on that): Nearly every part of the world puts lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, and more obscure varieties to work—beyond lemon dressing and lemonade.

So we scoured our cookbook library to find neat tips for cooking with citrus beyond borders. Our journey took us from Mexican street carts and British vegetable gardens to home kitchens in Oman and the restaurant kitchens here in New York.

Read on to find out more ways to put citrus to work this winter:

1. Stuff creatively.

from Citrus: Sweet and Savory Sun-Kissed Dishes by Valerie Aikman-Smith & Victoria Pearson

Think beyond lemon-stuffed chicken and Duck à L’Orange. The authors of Citrus roast a pork loin stuffed with grapefruit and fennel:

“The earthy flavor of the fennel and tart-sweet taste of the grapefruit mingle together to infuse the pork, which is covered with crispy, salty prosciutto.”

We're sold. Follow Citrus’ lead with pork and grapefruit, or mix it up: Try orange with roast turkey, or lime with roast chicken.

2. Temper citrus with citrus.

from Tender by Nigel Slater

Ranging from stickily sweet to mouth-puckering tart, citrus varietals are as diverse as the cultures that use them. Nigel Slater uses three types of oranges in his Casserole of Duck with Turnips and Oranges, layering sweet and bitter notes to create a complex citrus flavor.

Slater's take on Duck à L'Orange calls for two sweet oranges, marmalade, and a bitter Seville orange (or lemon):

“The orange flavors here, from both fruit and bitter marmalade, should not dominate. The final flavor can be tweaked to your taste at the end with lemon juice or, better still, a bitter Seville orange.”

Photo by James Ransom

3. Sanitize tastefully.

from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden

Claudia Roden preps her chicken by washing and rubbing with lemon juice—“a measure of hygiene learned in Egypt.” While it’s not necessary to wash chickens before roasting in a hot oven, it couldn’t hurt, especially since the lemon juice imparts such wonderful, bright flavor.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

4. Go forth with your cream. Lemon can handle it.

from A Girl and Her Greens by April Bloomfield

April Bloomfield’s creamed spinach calls for a hefty cup and a half of cream, but the chef insists her version is “more about highlighting the earthy, lemony flavor and slightly meaty texture” of spinach. To accomplish that, she calls on lemon zest to help “keep the dish’s richness from becoming heavy.”

Add a squeeze of lemon, or a pinch of zest, to balance out your own rich and creamy gratins, soups, and risottos. (Consider this our unofficial endorsement of using as much cream as you want, because Just Add Lemon!)

5. Fake it.

from Eat Mexico by Lesley Téllez

Lesley Téllez’s recipe for Slow-Cooked Citrusy Pork calls for sour oranges, which are sold at Mexican and Caribbean markets. Not only can sour oranges be tough to track down, but they are sometimes sold past their prime, which means a muted flavor and unpleasant brown spots on the inside of the fruit.

In light of these challenges, Téllez offers up a recipe called Sour Orange Substitute, calling for two parts fresh lime juice, one part fresh orange juice, and one part fresh grapefruit juice. The moral of the story is that there are a whole lot of citrus out there—they can be stand ins for other citrus when harder to find ones are, well, hard to find.

More: That sour orange juice—real or faked—would be more than welcome in this 1920s cocktail.

6. Seek out dried limes. (Or make them!)

from The Food of Oman by Felicia Campbell

Dried limes—also called black limes—are a staple of Middle Eastern cooking. They have what author Felicia Campbell describes as a “unique, subtle tartness and musky, almost fermented tang.” They can be used whole, pierced, halved, or ground, and are a common ingredient in tea, soups, and stews.

Dried limes can be difficult to find, but, don't dismay: You can make them yourself, easily. Boil limes in a salt brine and then let them dry for a few weeks. Campbell warns, however, that the drying period can take much longer in humid climates than it does in the “arid kitchens” of Oman.

More: Other weird limes, this time from Australia.

Photo by James Ransom

7. Plays well with cheese.

Not only do clementines look stunning on a cheese platter, they actually taste stunning together, too. The unlikely combo of citrus and cheese crops up more often than you might expect, in everything from salads to desserts. Some of our favorite examples:
- Dates, Parmesan, Almonds, and Blood Oranges (Sunday Supper at Lucques by Suzanne Goin)
- Nicoise Pizza with Lemon Slices and Provolone (The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison)
- A Rather Pleasing Carrot Cake with Lime Mascarpone Icing (Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver)

Citrus pairs best with salty and/or creamy cheeses—think feta, ricotta salata, Parmesan, mascarpone, and goat cheese.

Photo by James Ransom

8. Broil your breakfast.

from Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix by Mark Bittman

You probably already know that popping a lemon in the microwave really gets the juices flowing. If you go a step further and bake citrus at a high temperature, you'll be rewarded with concentrated sugars (and thus, flavor). We love roasting citrus for vinaigrettes, warm salads, and sauces that cook themselves. Mark Bittman cranks the heat even higher and broils grapefruit to enjoy on its own. He dots the fruit with butter, sprinkles on some brown sugar, and broils for a few minutes until the sugar is wonderfully caramelized. You can apply this tip to oranges, too.

More: Best practices for baking citrus.

9. Stock up for summer.

from Near and Far by Heidi Swanson

We can't think of margaritas—or sangria, or caipirinhas—without warm weather, but for those of us in the Northeast, citrus season is more balaclava than bikini. Of course, you can find limes at the supermarket all year round, but Heidi Swanson shows us a brilliant way to use in-season citrus for summer enjoyment.

Swanson combines winter citrus, rosé wine, and vanilla beans for Vin de Pamplemousse. It takes a few weeks for the blood oranges, grapefruits, lemon, and wine to mellow together, and after that, it can be stored in the refrigerator for months. The resulting aperitif is "pink, light, and lovely." Enjoy in June—or, even better, make two bottles and use one to brighten up your February.

More: Another great way to hold onto citrus season: grapefruit marmalade.

10. The grand finale.

from The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopéz-Alt

Finishing a recipe with acid is "equally important” as properly seasoning. Just like salt, citrus juice (or vinegar, etc.) brings out the flavor of other ingredients. Writes Lopéz-Alt:

“Because acidic ingredients quickly dull in flavor when cooked, it’s best to add fresh acid right at the end, just before serving. For most vegetable-based dishes, lemon juice or lime juice is a great option, as their aroma complements vegetal flavors.”

So even if a dish doesn't call for citrus at the end, if it's feeling dull, just give it a squeeze.

Got another tip for making the most of citrus season? Tell us about it in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Irenehope
  • LeBec Fin
    LeBec Fin
Annie Crabill

Written by: Annie Crabill


Irenehope May 28, 2020
Couldn't access April Bloomfield's Creamed Spinach recipe. Is it me or you?

I juiced @80 lemons this Spring and froze the juice in large capacity ice cube trays(Amazon). I have only 2 cubes left. One each for hot or cold lemonade. They ripen in a bunch here in Arizona. I can't keep them whole in my fridge or freezer, Just don't have the room. Can't keep a freezer in the garage, it's too hot, and we already have THREE refridgerators in the house!
LeBec F. January 22, 2016
Dried Limes Can be hard to find but make sure, when asking a grocer if she carries them, to ask for 'dried lemons or limes.' This actually comes from my own experience, sad to say, right here in multi-thnic cosmopolitan Boston. A major Middle Eastern vendor here sent away My Love (after a long drive) because he only had 'Dried Lemons' which are, in fact, the very same item, dried limes, but mislabeled/sometimes called dried lemons. Sheeesh. Fortunately, My Love was willing to return and purchase the important ingredient. I now use them frequently in soups and stewed dishes, Persian or not!
p.s. I highly recommend the well-researched and fascinating history, Citrus, by Pierre Laszlo.