11/04/2011 09:34 am 09:34:32 | Updated Aug 31, 2012

In the dead of winter, when most good fresh fruit is a distant memory, oranges are a godsend. Juicy, sweet, and vibrant in color and flavor, they're sometimes the only bright spot in an otherwise sad and wilted supermarket-produce landscape.

Citrus Geographics

Oranges are cultivated in warm regions around the world, like Spain, Brazil, Mexico, India, and, domestically, Florida and California. There are three main types: sweet (including familiar navel and Valencia oranges), loose skinned (Mandarins, tangerines, and Clementines), and bitter (used to make marmalade and rarely seen fresh in American markets). Oranges are of course closely related to grapefruits, lemons, and limes; all belong to the genus Citrus, and all are technically berries.

Of all citrus, oranges are the sweetest, although they're still acidic enough to make an interesting, mild alternative to vinegar and lemon juice. I always use freshly squeezed orange juice for cooking and drinking; it invariably tastes far better than the kind you buy in cartons, and you can be sure that it's free of preservatives and additives.

Orange Zest

Orange peel (or zest) is also perfectly edible and can add great orange flavor to baked goods, stir-fries, soups, and salad dressings. Whether you're removing the zest with a sharp knife or with a grater (Microplane graters are perfect for oranges), be sure to leave behind the white pith-the Styrofoam-like layer between the peel and the flesh-which tastes bitter.

Segmenting Oranges

To make orange slices appear elegant by removing all traces of pith-a good idea when you're cooking with them-cut off both ends of the fruit with a chef's or serrated knife, stand the orange on one end, and cut off the skin in long strips, keeping your knife as close to the flesh as possible. If you want neat orange segments, cut between the membranes to separate the sections; for "wheels," slice the orange crosswise. (Either way of cutting an orange works for Black Beans with Crisp Pork and Orange, a Latin American-inspired dish that derives flavor from orange juice and zest in addition to orange segments.)

If you want to keep the orange mostly intact but make the segments easier to separate, just halve the orange around the equator and then use a paring knife to loosen the flesh from the skin and the membranes. Now you can serve the orange raw with a spoon-the peel acts conveniently as a serving vessel-or, for something a little fancier, you can broil sectioned orange halves to warm and gently caramelize their juices. Topping them with a little butter and sugar makes broiled oranges almost decadent; the optional addition of fresh ginger and shredded coconut gilds the lily. Broiled Oranges with Coconut and Ginger makes an easy, light dessert or a fabulous addition to a weekend brunch.

Make These Orange Recipes
Broiled Oranges with Coconut and Ginger


Mark Bittman
Suggest a correction