As a chef, I don't tend to be the screaming sort, but more than one cook has heard this from me, at maximum volume: "Stop! Don't throw those peels away!" Every time, the cook freezes and stares wide-eyed, but I can't help if my tone gets a little out of control—it's a crime to throw away perfectly good orange peels. It happens all too often, and it doesn't take much to transform those bitter rinds into sweet, fragrant treats, leaving a taste that lingers surprisingly on the palate. Maybe I'm just an obsessive about these bumpy skins, but a true pastry chef does not let them go to waste—and doesn't allow anyone else to either! These are just a few of the things you can do with orange peels, and they will work with the skins of lemons, grapefruit, and even pomelo for the adventurous.
- I love candied orange peels because they're simple to make, pack great flavor, and keep for months. Soak your peels in cold water overnight to soften the skin and take away some of the bitterness. The next day you cut off all of the spongy white pith and cut the peel into strips. Bring equal parts water and sugar to a boil, enough to cover the peels, and keep on a low simmer until they're translucent and cooked through. Let cool, and store the peels in the cooking syrup in the fridge. (The syrup itself has fantastic flavor that can be used for jazzing up drinks, or anything else.)
- There are many things you can make with candied orange peel, but orangettes are one of my favorites; I love the way the sweet bitterness of chocolate brings out the floral notes in the orange. Take your peels out of the syrup and dry them on a rack for a few hours. Cut them into quarter-inch slivers, dip them in melted chocolate, and let cool until firm. By themselves, they're a great light dessert after a heavy meal.
- Every chef keeps her own stash of secret seasonings, and one of mine is orange and olive salt. The orange trades in its freshness for a darker, more complex flavor, one accented by the deep brininess of olives. Cut the white pith off the peels of 2 oranges. Dry out the peels and about 10 salt-cured, pitted olives in a 200F degree oven for about 4 hours. Once they've cooled, grind them with 1 cup of salt in a coffee or spice grinder. Store in a container at room temperature and have on hand to sprinkle on lamb, fish, or chicken. It's a perfect, intriguing finishing touch.
- Orange butter hits the spot when I'm in the mood for a rich spread instead of a sweet jam for toast or scones. Grate (I love using a Microplane) orange zest directly over room temperature butter so that it catches the citrus oils. Mix together and you have a smooth orange spread; the flavor will bloom over time, too. If you like it chunky and sweet, fold in some chopped candied orange peel for some extra umph!
- As a chef, it's always fun playing mixologist and Orange-cello can either be a light drink to start an evening or a fine digestif to end a meal, depending on how sweet you make it. Remove the peels of 5 oranges with a vegetable peeler and place them in a glass jar. Pour one bottle of vodka over the peels and keep it covered at room temperature for at least 3 days. The longer you steep, the stronger the flavor. When it's ready to your taste, keep it in the freezer, and a sweeten it with simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved into 1 part hot water and cooled) to taste when serving. The ratio of vodka to syrup is up to you!