One thing that I like to stress in my classes is that a good cook will throw little (if anything) away in the kitchen. Whether it’s the zest you didn’t save from the lemon you just juiced or those shrimp shells and corn cobs you just chucked, most people don’t realize how much good stuff (and good money) goes to waste in their kitchen. Citrus peels are fantastic in many different applications, and candying them is a great place to start. They cost almost nothing to make- just the peels you usually throw away, sugar, water, and a little heat- and they can be eaten whole or chopped up and added to your ice cream and baked goods (throw some candied orange peels into your next batch of gingersnaps or molasses spice cookies). For a special touch, I like to dip them in chocolate and then package them with cookies I give as gifts. However you choose to use your candy, this is a great little trick to have in your back pocket.
For those of you unfamiliar with the difference between the zest and the pith of citrus peel, it’s pretty simple: the zest is the colored part (the green of lime, yellow of lemon, orange of an orange) of the peel, which is full of flavorful oils; the pith is the white part of the peel just under the zest. Pith is quite bitter, but the bitterness is usually removed by a simple step of boiling the peels a couple of times before beginning the candying process. Since we are going with a waste not, want not theme, save the leftover syrup once the orange peels have finished candying. It’s a great flavoring for homemade sodas, whipped cream, libations, or wherever else you could use a sweet orange pick-me-up.
To get started, you will need several oranges, grapefruits, lemons, or limes. Remove the peel from the fruits. You can cut a thin slice from each end of the fruit, score the peel from end to end, and peel; however, I prefer to cut the fruit into quarters or eights and, using a very sharp paring knife, cut the flesh from the peel. Slice the peel into thin strips, then add them to a medium pot in which you have heated several inches of water to boiling. Add the peel and boil for two minutes. Strain and rinse the peels, then repeat the process twice.
Once you have finished the boiling process (known as blanching), stir together equal parts sugar and water in a medium pot and bring to a low simmer. Add the peels and continue to simmer, covered, stirring gently a few times during cooking, until peels are translucent. This can take up to an hour, depending on how thickly you have sliced the peels. Don’t let the syrup boil off and burn- keep an eye on it to see if you need to add water. Once the peels are translucent, strain from the syrup (save that syrup for flavoring drinks and whipped cream!) and toss with granulated sugar, then place on a rack to cool.
To make classic orangettes, or chocolate dipped orange peels, skip the last step and let the peels cool on a rack. Melt some dark chocolate and dip the cooled candied peels in the chocolate, then return to the rack to cool and set.
Note: You can candy ginger the same way as written here- just cut into matchsticks or slices and add to a pot with the sugar/water mixture, then go from there. No need to blanch ginger.