Thursday, September 29, 2011

Add a little Zest to your life!

I met Matt Preston from the fabulous TV show Master Chef Australia for lunch on his recent trip toi Mumbai and wanted to bring him a gift. Knowing that he loves limes and Sea Salt, I decided to create ‘A Perfect Bite’ of a Marmalade in his honour. And in a bold move I decided to intensify its citrus flavour by replacing the water marmalade recipes usually call for with citrus juice. Which meant. a lot of citrus to be juiced. Which ALSO meant my favourite ingredient in abundance - Citrus Zest.

Ever since I discovered Zest there has been no turning back! It all began I discovered a little magic wand, the Citrus Zester. It looks like a retarded back scratcher but is a nifty tool that harvests fine curls of the aromatic upper layer of skin from any citrus fruit, cleanly, in large proportions, without scraped knuckles and /or bitter pith! Now that I have clued in on it, I am hard put not to Zest Citrus. I add a bit of zest even if a recipe calls for juice only, it underscores the citrus flavor and announces the presence of citrus both visually and texturally.

We all use citrus juice, especially lime or lemon juice, its an important ingredient in cooking, with its ability to uplift even the most dismal dish. But it tends to be a one-note wonder adding sourness and flavour from whatever little oils of the skin make it into a dish.

Their most aromatic attribute – the skin – is relegated to soap dish to sparkle vessels with or discarded, taking the best of the fruit with it. The rind or peel of Citrus are the part of the fruit packed with maximum flavour thanks to volatile aromatic oils found in them, rich with floral, tangy tones against a background of slight, sophisticated bitterness. They are also incredibly rich in valuable phytonutrients and vitamin C which makes them ideal to help the body absorb the iron and protein in dishes they are added to. In fact I have even taken to adding zest, to my Dal tadkas. Yes you read right I put zest in a Dal Tadka! Orange Zest in Masoor dal and Kafir lime in Mung dal tadkas! 

Zest is very inportant in my CitruTzar masala.
Ironically, Indian cuisine just has not tapped the potential of citrus zest. Considering the sheer amount of time we’ve been squeezing Citrus for juice ! (limes originated in the Assam region of India). Having had them around for so long, you’d think we'd have discovered its Zest. It's even more tragic when one takes into account the fragrant varieties we have to our disposal in India; Uttaranchali Kagzi or Bada Nimbu, Gul Guls in Delhi, Bengali Gandharaj and Narthankai from South India. 

Zest can be scraped off with a zester but failing the possession of one the finest end of your grater will do. In my zester deprived days I preferred a sharp potato peeler. Peel of the thinnest outer layer, in large strips avoiding the pith or the white bit right underneath and chop up smaller. The outermost, coloured part of the peel is what you want. Aptly called zest, this bit of the fruit lives up to its name in what it brings to a dish. Zest can be scraped off with a zester but failing the possession of one the finest end of your grater will do. In my zester deprived days I prefered a sharp potato peeler. I'd peel of the thinnest outer layer, in large strips avoiding the pith or the white bit right underneath.

Mince fresh Zest, along with other fresh herbs/spices so ils can blend.
All citrus fruits can be zested, lemons are most popular but Mosambis and Oranges - especially Malta Oranges offer intensely fruity aromas. Even Grapefruit yields wonderfully complex zest. Vivid colors are usually, but not always, an indication of flavorful zest; in the case of our own nimbus, the greenest ones offer best Zest, not the yellow ones, which are dried out somewhat. (Also Lime zest loses some of its kick when cooked so be more generous with it) but when added fresh to a Nimbu or Kala khatta gola, it can't be beaten!

Dried Citrus peel sold as tea in Itanbul's Spice market.
When choosing fruit for zesting look for firm fruit with clear glossy skins, nick the peel of fruit you're considering to release the volatile oils in the skin. It should have a bright sharp wonderful bouquet. If it’s dull, skip it and pick another. Wash fruit well before zesting and zest just before using because the volatile oils are strongest then. It's much easier to zest a whole fruit so zest prior to juicing.

Here are a few ideas for using Zest :- 

If you do not have any time just put Zest into an open mouthed jar and top with olive oil. In a few days you will have a wonderfully aromatic citrus oil that can be added to salad, drizzled over soups or used anywhere that it will not be heated up. (Heat will kill its flavour).  

Another easy way to preserve zest that I discovered while making Matt’s Marmalade, is as Citrus Finishing Salt. It makes a lovely condiment just combine 1portion Citrus Zest with 1 ½-2 portions sea salt. Its an AWESOME condiment to finish anything from Nimbu Paani to soups, salads, stirfries, just about anything that calls for a little salt leaving a hauntingly zingy flavour in its wake. Fold it into Mayonnaise in place of regular salt for a citrusy dressing for chicken or salad.  I have used the Citrus finishing salt to season both Spinach and Pak Choy with delicious results. I also loved it with blanched vegetables. 

You can also make Citrus sugar, lemon sugar in particular, zest a lemon into fine sugar, mix well and pour into a container. Zesting releases the natural oils of the lemon and those oils absorb quickly into the sugar. Sallow mixture to dry then close bottle. Refresh as you use by adding regular sugar and or zest and stirring great in tea and lemonade, its great for rimming glasses for cocktails, topping brulees and stirring into desserts. Apologies, I do not have a picture for the sugar currantly, but to compensate please click through here to read my fellow food blogger Saee's FABULOUS POST ON ORENGETTE COFFEE CAKE TO DIE FOR! 

Links and GYAN
And if you fancy winning packets of my Anna Rascalla and Citrus Tzar spice blends! Click through here to see what you need to do! 


nonchalantgourmand said...

FOOD PORN ALERT FOOD PORN ALERT !!! love these .. and im honored to have received a little bit from you :)

Michelle Peters - Jones said...

You should try David Lebovitz's Super Lemon Icecream - and increase the zest... you will be addicted :-)

Vandana Rajesh said...

Nice read indeed, there is so much possible with the zest that most of us end up just emptying into the dustbins. Love your articles...really interesting.