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Tips, Techniques and Tools for Using Citrus

Citrus Segments

The following information was provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder.

Winter might actually be one of my favorite seasons. Cold and snow are challenging, but then winter is also citrus season. From October to March the produce bins are piled high with colorful lemons, limes, grapefruits and fabulous varieties of oranges from clementines to satsumas. With so many kinds of citrus to choose from, winter may be cold, but never boring.

Sliced and segmented oranges, lemons and limes

I wrote a book titled Sweet and Tart a few years ago featuring desserts and savory dishes made from citrus. After buying bushels of citrus from the bins at my local Heinen’s, I realized that it’s not only the juice but the zest of citrus that carries amazing flavor, so I promptly began to zest all citrus.

Sweet and Tart Cookbook

The crisper bins in my fridge were over flowing with naked citrus as I started adding zest to everything. Now, I never squeeze a lemon, orange or lime without zesting it first, transferring all that citrus flavor to sauces, dressings, desserts, salads and vegetable dishes. While the juice adds acidity and tang, the zest holds oils from the fruit that are as fragrant as perfume. Adding the zest to recipes adds complexity without overwhelming tartness. It makes a lemon, orange or lime-flavored dish more complete.

Since you will be zesting and juicing like crazy when making recipes and enjoying citrus this season, here are a few tried and true tips to help you out.

  • Keep citrus in a cool place. At times, I will place citrus in a bowl to look at for a few days because it’s so beautiful, but then relent and place it in the crisper drawer where it will keep for a longer period of time.
  • For the most juice, choose fruit that feels heavy in your hand.
  • For the best zest, pick thick-skinned fruit. For the most juice, pick thin-skinned fruit. You can judge this by feel. Thick-skinned citrus is firmer and not as heavy. Their skin is usually more dimpled. Feel around in the pile and choose citrus that are not too hard. They should be squeezable.
  • Always zest before squeezing. It’s so much easier.
  • When zesting, use organic citrus, or wash it really well to remove pesticides and wax.
  • Room temperature citrus yields the most juice. You can microwave fruit for 30 seconds to warm aswell.
  • An average lemon will yield about 3-4 tablespoons of juice and about 1 tablespoon of zest. A lime will yield 1-2 tablespoons of juice and 1-2 teaspoons of zest. An orange will yield 1/3 cup-1/2 cup of juice and 1 1/2 tablespoons of zest. Of course, these are averages so always buy a few extra to make sure you have enough.
  • A microplane will be the best tool you ever buy. It effortlessly takes just the peel and not the bitter pith that lies underneath. I promise you will never be sorry to give it space in your kitchen gadget drawer.
  • A citrus squeezer is a wonderful tool because it helps squeeze juice efficiently while trapping the seeds, which inevitably saves you time.
  • Another useful tool is a wooden reamer. Or try a low-tech fork. Stick the tines into the cut citrus and squeeze while twisting the fork.
  • Fine and medium mesh strainers are handy to separate the seeds and pulp from citrus juice.

I love to eat citrus out of hand. There’s nothing like a chilled clementine orange as a snack or part of lunch or breakfast, but citrus has many roles in my kitchen. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Add a squeeze of lemon or lime to soups. It’s amazing how the acid ramps up flavor.
  • Winter baking wouldn’t be nearly as exciting without citrus-tinged scones, muffins, breads and cakes.
  • Salads come alive with the addition of orange and grapefruit segments.
  • Try roasting a chicken with thinly sliced lemon; it perfumes the bird like no other ingredient.
  • Toss thinly sliced orange with sweet potato or hard squash and roast for a simple but elegant side dish.
  • Use citrus juice in salad dressings for a livelier take on vinaigrette.

Zested Lemon and Lime

Carla Snyder in her kitchen
By Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes.

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