Kitchen Hacks

Ina Garten’s Trick to Streamline Citrus Zesting

March  8, 2018

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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Top Comment:
“I use my fine one for citrus & ginger, more of a wider paddle design. I have a medium one I use for grating parm & romano, that one is the traditional long & narrow design. And lastly, a larger one, again a paddle design, that I use to shred cheddar or other firm blocks. My 4th, is a special one, smaller, on the handle-end it has a (covered with a removable plastic shield) tool that will score & strip, along with the traditional citrus zesting paddle. I use one of them at least daily.”
— Dave &.
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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:

Do you swear by a Microplane? If so, what do you use it for? Tell us in the comments!

10 Comments

Tim March 13, 2018
Just a note to people who are new here... the recipe above for "Luisa's (Lemon) Cake" is one of the best recipes I have ever tried. It has been a staple at our house now, and I am expected to bring it to parties and family gatherings. This is a must in your cooking toolbox.
 
witloof March 11, 2018
I love my three Microplane graters so much {although the 15 year old box grater is extremely badly designed and collects shards of cheese and carrots in its hollow upper handle} that I bought a Microplane mandoline. Let me advise you not do waste your money. It's a piece of crap. The OXO mandoline is half the price and a thousand times better designed and easier to use.
 
Robjack March 10, 2018
Does anyone have a secret for cleaning the zesting tools? Mine never seem to get completely clean. Thank you!
 
foofaraw March 11, 2018
I found old clean toothbrush with soap is the best to clean any kind of graters.
 
nancy E. March 10, 2018
I use my microplane when I want to save on parmesan, to grate nutmeg and of course to zest citrus<br />
 
Steven W. March 10, 2018
I use the box grater.
 
Dave &. March 9, 2018
I love the Ina trick - brilliant. My kitchen isn't complete, however, without at least one Microplane-brand zester. I have 4, in varying degrees of zest-width. The individual holes... I use my fine one for citrus & ginger, more of a wider paddle design. I have a medium one I use for grating parm & romano, that one is the traditional long & narrow design. And lastly, a larger one, again a paddle design, that I use to shred cheddar or other firm blocks. My 4th, is a special one, smaller, on the handle-end it has a (covered with a removable plastic shield) tool that will score & strip, along with the traditional citrus zesting paddle. I use one of them at least daily.
 
AntoniaJames March 9, 2018
A strip zester is much easier/quicker to use than a paring knife or vegetable peeler, in my experience. I realize a lot of people don't like owning single-purpose tools but a conventional zester is not a high ticket item, it doesn't take up much space, and you get the benefit of being able to make pretty, uniform -- and aromatic! -- threads of citrus for garnishing. You can also make tiny cubes of zest by quickly cutting those zested threads. In the words of the late, great Judy Rodgers, "Try this." ;o)
 
AntoniaJames March 9, 2018
Case in point: compare the photo of the cookies made by Food52 in this recipe, using a microplane, with the second photo, of the same cookies made with lemon peel stripped using a zester and then chopped with sugar: https://food52.com/recipes/2251-st-clement-s-orange-and-lemon-cookies Trust me, those tiny bits of citrus are magical. ;o)
 
Smaug March 8, 2018
Or you could use a zester and avoid the pith.