Chef Dez: Zest adds to cooking

There are obvious benefits gained from using the freshest ingredients when cooking, and using the zest from citrus fruits is no exception.

Zest from limes, lemons, oranges, or grapefruit add flavour, but also create a decorative garnish.

I always remember eating peeled oranges as a child – pieces of the white part of the peel attached tasted very bitter. That is normal.

The pale underside of the peel of a citrus is the pith. It is more bitter than the flesh of the fruit, or the outer, coloured part of the peel, called the zest.

There are many ways to include zest as an ingredient. A seafood dish will always benefit from lemon zest. Lemon and seafood are a classic combination.

Limes are often used in salsas and Mexican cooking, so their zest enhance many of those types of recipes.

Generally, use zest in any recipe that already has citrus juice as an ingredient.

An orange chicken stir-fry will taste more complete with addition of orange zest in the recipe, or as a garnish on top of the finished dish.

Zest complements many desserts, as well. Imagine a piece of spiced pumpkin cake topped with a dollop of whipped cream, delicate curls of bright yellow lemon zest, a vibrant green mint leaf, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

As a garnish, zest brightens the appearance of your recipe, but should almost always be married with contrasting colours. In the cake example above, we add the yellow lemon zest to a green mint leaf, paired with the warm rusty colour of cinnamon.

For the orange chicken stir-fry, use the orange zest, but maybe add thin, diagonal slices of green onion.

Your imagination is your playground in the kitchen, and you should experiment as much as possible to bring enjoyment and attractiveness to the table.

There are basically three ways to remove zest from citrus fruits.

Using a knife runs a risk of including the bitter pith.

Better is a micro-plane grater or a zester.

Micro-plane graters are seen most on TV cooking shows lately. They are small, long graters with fine teeth. It is placed across a bowl, which captures the fine gratings of zest

The downside is a risk of grating too far, and still getting the white bitter pith.

I find a zester to be much better. It is a small, handheld tool with five little circular blades at one end. When it is dragged across a citrus fruit from top to bottom, it produces beautiful curls of zest while leaving the bitter pith behind.

A benefit of using a zester is the long curls – perfect for garnishing.

The downside, however, is that the zest curls would have to be chopped when used as an ingredient.

If you currently do not own either tool, I would recommend a zester instead of a grater. The zester is less expensive, offers garnishing versatility, and chances are, if you are cooking, you already have a knife and cutting board out, so chopping the zest for an ingredient is not too much of a chore.

Whichever tool you choose, please remember that you usually get what you pay for. Don’t expect a zester purchased for one dollar to work very well.

Premium kitchen tools are investments into the health and enjoyment of home-cooked meals.

When taken care of properly, they will last a lifetime and thus be well worth the money paid. 

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