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News / Life / Clark County Life

So Appealing: Four ways to use versatile orange peels

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 23, 2022, 6:03am
7 Photos
Oranges are at their peak flavor this time of year. Don't throw away those peels! They have many culinary uses.
Oranges are at their peak flavor this time of year. Don't throw away those peels! They have many culinary uses. (Photos by Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

This time of year, oranges are a gift to your taste buds. Oranges are at their peak of zingy flavor from December through March. Other citrus varieties like mandarins, clementines, tangerines and tangelos each have their own peak seasons, but they all overlap during the winter months, meaning that you can basically walk into any grocery store right now, grab an orange or orange-adjacent fruit and give yourself a boost. It’s gray and rainy outside but there can be sunshine in your mouth.

Oranges provide such a big bang for your buck because they tantalize all your senses. Their vivid color is invigorating. The fragrance that’s released into the air when you peel an orange is an instant mood-lifter. There’s a satisfaction in tearing into an orange with your hands, feeling the pith separate from the juicy interior and hearing the “ppphhhffft” sound as the peel tears away. (And you may get a bonus sensation as a drop of juice hits your eye.) Then there’s the inimitable flavor, a tiny burst of fireworks on your tongue.

But wait — what are you doing with all those orange peels? Throwing them in the trash? Oh no! Not when there are so many culinary uses for orange peel. (A note about food safety: Wash the fruit thoroughly before you do anything with the peel. You might also consider using organic oranges to avoid pesticides.)

Candied orange peel

My favorite use for orange peel is candied orange peel. I could eat it like, well, candy. Cut the peel from one very large or two medium navel oranges into very thin strips, pith and all. (Some recipes advise against using the pith, but I quite like it.) Put them in a saucepan with just enough water to cover the peels, then add 1 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and ½ teaspoon salt. Set them on a low simmer for 30 minutes or until they turn slightly translucent. Remove them and lay them out to cool on wax paper or on a wire drying rack. When they’re completely cool, toss them in ½ cup sugar and lay them out to dry for 8 to 12 hours; they’ll harden just a little as they dry.

Eat them plain or use them as a cocktail garnish or as a topper for cupcakes, cake and cheesecake. You can also dice them and mix them into cakes, cookies, sweetbreads and granola or sprinkle a few onto your morning oatmeal. You can keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks or freeze them for future use. Save the orange syrup that you boiled the peels in to spruce up your next Old Fashioned or add it to seltzer as a sweet pick-me-up.

Zest

Fresh orange zest is delicious in everything from salad dressings and marinades to baked goods. Add the zest to shortbread, sugar cookies and pancake or waffle batter for a delightful citrus twist. However, you can also dry the zest and store it for a few months in your spice cabinet. Simply zest an orange as you normally would, then spread the zest out on a cookie sheet. Bake in the oven at 170 degrees for one to two hours, or until completely dry. The dried zest isn’t as powerfully flavorful as fresh, but when you don’t have fresh oranges, it’s a good stand-in.

Chen pi

If you want to try something more purely orangey, consider making your own chen pi — sun-dried and aged mandarin peels used as an ingredient in Chinese cooking and medicine. I made my own quick version of chen pi by peeling two mandarins and drying the peels in my oven at 170 degrees for three or four hours, or until they were completely brittle. I then ground them to a fine powder in my coffee grinder.

To make tea, put a scant teaspoon of peel-powder in the bottom of a teacup and add boiling water. The tea (or really a tisane, since it contains no actual tea leaves) has a low-key orangey flavor with a bitter note common to citrus, but that can be remedied with honey. It’s not the nicest thing you’ll ever drink, and the powder doesn’t completely dissolve in the hot water, but it is said to aid digestion and reduce phlegm. And think of all that vitamin C!

Marmalade

Even if these other ways of using orange peel aren’t, ahem, appealing to you, orange marmalade might be. (As my father says, “When life gives you marmals, make marmalade.”) I have a British husband who doesn’t like marmalade, but I don’t hold that against him. I make marmalade for my own enjoyment the same way I’d make freezer jam. If you’ve got oranges that are a little past their prime, this is a great way to use them up. Finely slice six or seven oranges with peels on and put them in a big pot with 2 cups or more of sugar (depending on your taste and the number of oranges), fresh ginger and vanilla extract. You don’t need to add water because the sugar will bring out the juices. Simmer them on the lowest heat for an hour or longer, enough to soften the peels and break down the pulp but not enough to lose the bright orange color. Mash everything thoroughly with a potato masher to soften and break up the larger chunks of peel. Then add a 6-ounce box of orange-flavored gelatin, stir until completely dissolved, and pour the orange mixture into sterilized mason jars. The marmalade will keep in the freezer for up to six months but it will only last in your mouth for about two seconds.

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