Our Seasonal Citrus Guide: How to Identify, Select, and Use Winter's Glowing Glories
Winter's sunshine comes in the form of bright fruit with bold and tangy-sweet intensity. Explore and embrace in-season citrus--from grapefruit to tangelos--for a much-needed dose of vibrancy during the season of hearty soups, comforting casseroles, and earthy veggies.
Citrus fruits are, to me, the delicate lights gleaming within a cold, wintery tunnel. They are nature's little bursts of color and bright flavor amidst weeks of heavy comfort food and earthy root vegetables. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start snagging some of winter’s finest gems and enjoy the distinct sunny personality each has to offer. Here's a simple guide to buying and cooking with the season's juicy-tart specialities.
This fruit is believed to be a cross between a lemon and an orange. They are named after F.N. Meyer, the man who carried them to the U.S. from China about 100 years ago. They are round, smoother, and typically smaller than regular lemons. Their juice is more aromatic and slightly less sour than regular lemons, making them a wonderful and unique addition in cooking. Use them to brighten a creamy pasta dish, try bringing a distinct citrusy sweet-tart character to your holiday sipping with this sparkling Meyer lemon cocktail, or use them to bring a fresh twist to Chicken Picatta.
Grapefruit grows in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas so the fruit is typically available at grocery stores nationwide throughout the year. However, they are natural cold fighters and peak during the holiday season. There are two varieties of grapefruit, white and pink, named for the color of the fruity flesh. The paler the grapefruit’s flesh, the more tart they will be. When choosing a grapefruit, know that the heavier they are for their size, the juicer they will be. Try ripe, in-season grapefruit to kickstart the day in a breakfast salad, use them to add something special to a holiday cheesecake, or incorporate them into a vibrant and nutritious side dish, such as roasted asparagus.
This large citrus fruit, only available in winter months, is closely related to the grapefruit and indigenous to China. These fruits vary in tartness and size, ranging from the size of a large grapefruit to roughly that of a melon. It takes a little work to get to the flesh of this fruit due to a thick layer of pith (ya know, that white stuff) under the skin. Speaking generally, a pomelo is milder than a grapefruit in terms of tartness, but can be substituted for grapefruit in most recipes. Choose a pomelo that is heavy for its size without blemishes and sweetly fragrant. To get accustomed to it, try substituting pomelo for grapefruit in this flavorful weeknight chicken dish.
These dramatically darker colored, sweeter oranges grow in the Mediterranean and in the U.S. (largely in California and Texas). They have a intense, blood red color and are less acidic than typical oranges, such as navels. Their sweeter flavor works well with the hotness of chilies in this dynamic winter chicken dish, and their stunning color makes for a gorgeous seasonal cocktail, such as this Blood Orange Sangria.
You’ve probably eaten this small Japanese orange before without realizing it. Most canned mandarin oranges, like the ones you got in your lunchbox as a kid, are Satsumas. These oranges are seedless with an easily removable skin and segmented flesh. Satsumas are sold and often pictured with the leaves attached. In the U.S., they are grown in California, Florida, and Louisiana. They are juicy and delightfully sweet. They're great paired with shellfish, prime example: this incredibly elegant sea scallop dish. You can also utilize satsumas in a wide array of desserts, like this light and fluffy tart, and cocktails, such as an old fashioned.
The tangerine is the most common type of mandarin orange in the U.S. These seeded oranges have a rough outer skin with a sweet, bright orange flesh. There are also several hybrids that stem from tangerines, such as tangelos and clementines (read more on these below). Use tangerines to balance more bitter and super savory flavors, like in a Brussels sprout salad with Pecorino cheese, or use their intensely bright sweetness to bring new life to a well-loved dessert, as in this tangerine chess pie.
Tangelos are a tangerine and pomelo cross, hence the name. The tangelo is easy to peel, very juicy, and sweetly tart with few seeds. They range from the size of small orange to an average grapefruit, from rough to smooth skin, and from yellowish to a deep orange flesh. The most common type in the U.S. is the Minneola, which is easy to spot due to the knob at the stem of the fruit. Enjoy them as-is, substitute them in recipes that call for a tangerine or a grapefruit, like this beet and citrus salad, or highlight their beautiful citrus flavor in a spinach salad with mint and endive. If you're hosting a holiday party (or hey, just want a really good drink), put a seasonal spin on a Salty Dog by incorporating tangelo juice.
This petite fruit is a cross between mandarin and sweet oranges. They have tangy-sweet orange flesh in easily divided, seedless segments. On top of that, their loose skin is effortlessly peeled away, making them ideal for snacking and great for kids. Clementines are sometimes called the "Christmas orange" because have a short season lasting from November to January. Use them in desserts by creating a clementine sauce for sorbet, dipping them in chocolate, or using them in this Clementine-Date Cake.
As with the citrus fruits you likely keep on hand year-round, such as lemons and limes, all of the fruits mentioned above can be left at room temperature or stored in the fridge. Where you should store them is best determined by what they'll ultimately be used for and when. Keeping your citrus fruits out on the counter will make them easier to juice, but they will have a slightly longer shelf life stored in the fridge.