November might be chilly and grey in many parts of the northern hemisphere, but at least there are mandarins, the citrus fruit that brings sweet sunshine to the dark winter months.
A term that covers a range of orange-fleshed fruits comprising tangerines, clementines and satsumas, properly aromatic mandarins – as distinct from commercially grown easy peelers – have a sublimely rich flavour and floral sweet-sourness.
They’re also prized for their juiciness, skin that pulls away from the flesh readily and easy-to-tease-apart segments. For all these reasons and more, mandarins all too easy to devour in large quantities when the nights are closing in early.
Mandarins are also versatile. There are many ways to preserve them, so you can make the most of every part, and extend the season. They also add a wonderful citrussy burst to salads, delicate fruity notes and a hint of tang to savoury dishes, and a juice sweetness to cakes and puddings.
When selecting mandarins, choose ones with intact peel, without stains or bruises. Mandarins are often delicate due to the softness of their peel, so to extend their shelf life store them somewhere cool.
Mandarins are smaller than oranges, so you would need a vast number to deliver a whole glass of juice. Better, try adding some of the juice to other drinks. A generous splash in a cup of black tea is wonderful, as it is in tonic water or prosecco when you’re in the mood for something cold. Or try adding the juice to salad dressings and marinades, along with a finely grated rasp or two of richly scented zest and a spritz of lemon or lime juice to counter the sweetness. This tangy sharp/sweet dressing is delicious over a cold seafood salad – think lobster or prawns, or even bitter leaves. Or it also adds a subtle fresh and fruity flavour tossed through a couscous or rice salad.
The peel of mandarins is rich with oils that deliver heady flavour and aroma, so don’t throw them away. Finely grate zest into your cooking pot or batter for cakes, pancakes or waffles (try to avoid the bitter white pith). Or remove larger pieces with a swivel peeler or very sharp knife, and drop the fragrant strips into stews, soups, sauces and rice and grain cooking water. Alternatively, leave the peel at room temperature or in the sun until completely dry and brittle, and then blitz until fine. Add this sublimely perfumed powder to stews and soups for subtle orange notes, or mix with salt and sugar for a flavourful condiment.For the ultimate sweet and sticky addition to cakes, breads and doughs, add candied peel.
Mandarin segments add juicy bursts of flavour to cold and warm salads, so try teaming them with contrasting, as well as complementary notes. Try bitter leaves such as rocket and endive, earthy walnuts, and milky mozzarella and burrata. Again, mandarins make a lovely marriage with raw seafood: try cubes of ultra-fresh tuna and sesame seeds, or carpaccio-thin slices of seas bass, with slices of mandarin.
Orange flavours work like a charm in hearty lamb and beef stews, so add some of the zest to the gravy, along with chunks of the fruit or a squeeze of the juice if you prefer. Or try braising wedges of chicory or cabbage in butter, a splash of soy and the juice of a mandarin. Mandarin is very good served with duck, the juice turned into a sauce with a splash of vinegar and the pan juices (from which you have drained some of the fat).
Cakes and desserts:
Mandarins add gorgeous perfume and flavour to puddings, cakes, tarts and sweet sauces – the possibilities really are endless. Turn the juice into a wonderfully buttery curd for spooning over pavlova, or to fill cakes and doughnuts. Chop peeled mandarins, being careful not to lose the juice, and cook down into jam – a little star anise added to the mix works beautifully.
Make your favourite plain cake batter – adding some grated zest and replacing some of the liquid with the juice – then arrange candied orange slices at the bottom of the greased cake tin before pouring in the batter and cooking as normal. Or, for a very simple pudding, peel and halve mandarins, arrange cut side up in a roasting tray and sprinkle with sugar. Add a splash of water or sweet wine to the tray, and cook in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so, until tender. Serve with cinnamon-spiked custard.
Mandarins pair beautifully with spices (like cinnamon, star anise, ground ginger, ground coriander and ground cardamon), roast meats, bitter leaves, seafood (notably lobster and prawns).
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