The Orangerie, at the bottom of the jardin de Tuileries, is home to a collection of paintings that once belonged to Paul Guillaume, one of the great Parisian art merchants of the 20th century. While upstairs the gallery is dedicated to Monet’s water lilies, downstairs Guillaume’s collection includes works from Matisse, Soutine, Renoir and Picasso. In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful places to pass an afternoon in Paris.
Built in 1852 its original contents were also prized for their beauty. Built to protect orange trees from the harsh winter frosts, these often ornate buildings had became a feature of many aristocratic gardens during the Renaissance. Oranges were treasured for their exotic appearance and perfume.
Citrus trees were also praised further afield for practical considerations. Planted along the trade routes of the New World by sailors and pirates, the high vitamin C content, and more importantly ascorbic acid, inherent in citrus was used to counter scurvy.
Alongside garlic and olive oil, you will always find lemons in my kitchen. Tart and refreshing, they are a great accompaniment to any meat or seafood dish. Citrus can be used to lift a pasta sauce and I would never roast a chook without a lemon in the cavity (piercing the skin with a skewer a few times will allow the lemon to release more flavour as it steams). Citrus is also a great foil for rich, fatty dishes.
The fresh, vibrant flavour of citrus can be harnessed in a few different ways, as the fruit, skin and juice are all used. If juicing, first roll the fruit back and forth with a little pressure thus encouraging more juice. When zesting be sure to avoid the white pith and always zest over dry ingredients (such as salt or sugar), to capture all the aromatic oils that fly off the fruit.
When carefully cut, citrus segments are elegant and refined. To do this, first top and tail the fruit, then remove the peel and all the white pith. With a sharp knife cut out each segment, running your knife alongside the white dividing membranes. As you go, turn the membranes over like the pages of a book. The result is worlds apart from the orange quarters we all grew up with at half time on the sports field.
Citrus loves: seafood, olives, pepper, chicken, avocado, fruit, rich or fatty foods, olive oil, fennel, olives, potatoes, ginger, gin, sugar.
Select and store:
Look for plump lemons that are heavy for their size, with smooth oily skins. Limes are slightly more tart and can be used to replace lemons in many dishes. The caviar lime, with its small beads of juice, is fantastic frozen and added to a gin and tonic.
The orange family can be split into either bitter or sweet. The bitter variety, including the Seville orange from Spain, tend to be too acid for dessert but are fantastic for making marmalade. Among the sweet variety navel oranges are perhaps the most popular. They are distinguished by a raised growth (a second fruit) at one end and have juicy flesh with few pips. Blood oranges (also known as Malta oranges) have a sweet juicy flesh and a distinct red flush. We have the bergamot orange to thank for Earl Grey tea, where the oil is extracted from the rind and used flavour the tea leaves.
Grapefruits, the largest of the citrus fruit, have pale yellow peel that varies in thickness (ruby grapefruit are also available – their skin is flushed pink). They are incredibly tart and are often served as a breakfast dish, with the tartness countered with a little honey or a sprinkle of sugar. On the other end of the spectrum, kumquats are small, oval, orange-like fruit with bright yellow/orange skin and juicy, bitter flesh. Kumquats may be stewed and preserved, used in marmalade or served fresh.
Cooking with citrus:
Crab, Fennel and Blood Orange Salad: Finely shave fennel with a mandolin. Segment the orange, reserving the core for the vinaigrette. In a separate bowl, squeeze the juice from the remainder of the orange, combining it with some olive oil and salt and pepper. Whisk well. Arrange the fennel on the plate with the orange segments, sprinkle the cooked crabmeat (or kalamata olives work really well) over the top and serve immediately.
Citrus curing salt: Place 100g of rock salt and 30g sugar in a mortar. Zest a lime, orange and lemon over the mortar to capture all the aromatic oils with the zest. Add 4 coriander seeds and 2 peppercorns and pound all the ingredients together to form a coarse aromatic powder. Store in an airtight jar and refrigerate. Use within 2 weeks. This recipe will cure a side of kingfish, simply bury the kingfish in salt mix and set aside, covered, in the fridge for 2 hours. Rinse thoroughly and slice finely. Serve with a salad of citrus segments and watercress.