I’ve worked in several professional kitchens, each one different from the last. In one, I stirred a bathtub-sized pot of tomato sauce with a wooden paddle by day, then shaped fondant flowers by night. In another, I mixed, scooped, and baked oversized cookies. In another, I rolled bulgogi kimbap and stir-fried japchae noodles. In another, I baked biscuits and pies. But regardless of cuisine, and in spite of location, all these kitchens had one thing in common: They loved Microplanes.
That is, extremely fine-toothed graters. Microplane is the trademarked brand, but people often use the term for similar tools. These are perfect for citrus zest (hi, lemon chess pie), hard cheese (oh hey, cacio e pepe), whole nutmeg (what’s up, buttermilk doughnuts), and countless other occasions. I’ve seen many a chef debate about whether you drag the Microplane across the food or the food across the Microplane. I prefer the latter—I’m just faster that way—but you do you.
Faster is the key word here. How long does it take you to zest a dozen lemons? Probably quite a while, right? For small yields—say, a sprinkle of cheese atop a pile of spaghetti—Microplanes are perfect. But for larger ones—say, lemon curd—they quickly become tiring. There were many moments, with many lemons, when I wished, If only there were another way!
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And then Ina Garten, a button-up-wearing angel, floated from the clouds, to save bakers everywhere with a crafty solution: Next time a recipe calls for sugar and citrus zest, just don’t zest the citrus. Instead, strip the zest with a vegetable peeler, then combine those pieces with the sugar in a food processor. Pulse until the zest is minced and the sugar is colorful. Not only does this quickly process the zest but—bonus points!—it also releases all those good citrus oils. In other words, brighter, zingier flavor.
This trick appears in Ina’s best cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Parties! (And yes, I understand that’s a controversial thing to say, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion on which Ina cookbook is best, and that’s mine.) She uses it for lime curd, to serve with stem-on strawberries or thickly sliced pound cake. But you could use it for a lot more than that:
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing stories about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. She now lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, which is all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.