Back to Basics: Dried Citrus Zest
Okay, hear me out on this one. I know that dehydrating citrus zest isn’t nearly as widely practiced or ballyhooed as, say, making stock, but it should be. Think about all that orange juice we consume. All that fresh-squeezed lemon juice going into your vinaigrettes. The limes you squeeze over guacamole and Thai food.
Now think about how often you need lemon or lime zest for a completely different recipe, and have to go out and buy more citrus which sits in your fridge looking pale and naked after you’ve stripped it of zest.
The best way to get around this scenario is the waste-not-want-not method: just zest your citrus any time you’re going to use it for just its juice or flesh, and let the zest try out before bottling it and saving it. One minute of extra work and no fancy dehydrator necessary; since the bits of zest are so small and oily, they’ll dry out quite well on your counter. It doesn’t have the nose-smacking pungency of the fresh stuff, but it makes up for it by working its way into dishes you’d never think to pull out a whole lemon for — but since you’ve got a bottle of the stuff there on your shelf, well, why not?
Plus, it makes the house smell really good while it dries.
- Wash your fruit in very hot water with soap and a scrub brush. (Organic citrus is best for this, but if you’re using conventionally grown fruit, just make sure to clean it very, very well.) Rub dry with a towel.
- Using a microplane grater, zest the citrus onto a piece of parchment. Get as much of the colored zest as you can without getting any of the bitter white pith. (I had this fine microplane zester in California and it worked great, but I like the medium one I have now even better — it’s more versatile.)
- Optionally, instead of drying the zest as-is, you could rub the zest into sugar at this point. The rough grains rubbing into the zest will release all of its essential oils and you’ll end up with a gorgeously perfumed sugar.
- Now you can just leave the zest (or the zested sugar) out for a day or so and it should completely dry out. If you’re not using sugar, you could also place the parchment on a baking sheet, heat your oven to as low as it will go, turn it off, and leave the baking sheet with the zest in there overnight.
- When the zest is completely dry, seal it up in a small airtight container. It’ll keep for months. If your zest is in larger pieces than you’d like for any given recipe, you can grind it up like any other spice in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.
- Use dried zest in any recipe that calls for fresh zest, especially if fresh zest is not at hand. I would increase the quantity a tiny bit to make up for the loss of aroma.
- Make citrus sables.
- Mix into softened butter for a pretty, speckled compound butter.
- Mix with salt and pepper and oil and butter and rub under the skin of a chicken before roasting.
- Sprinkle over popcorn.
- Make any plain cake or frosting into a lemon, lime, or orange cake or frosting.
- Use as a garnish on just about anything: lime zest over tacos, orange zest over yogurt, lemon zest over fish.
Music to cook by: Sigh No More [Mumford & Sons // Sigh No More]