Tangerine is my favorite flavor. Growing up, I chomped through the rest of the roll of Tropical Lifesavers just to savor the three tangerine ones; letting the circles slowly dissolve on my tongue until ultimately, paper-thin, they crumbled and finally dissolved into nothing but the flavor of a memory.
The holiday season meant the arrival of the real thing--I'd come home from school to find tangerines in the refrigerator, their loose-fitting skin just waiting to be slipped off--the fragrance released in tiny sprays on my fingers and face as I peeled it. I took time to separate each section slowly; popping them in my mouth one at a time; relishing the cool feeling of the dry membrane against my tongue then the burst of flavor and juice as I bit into it; the cool juice running down my throat.
The flavor of that first tangerine of the year is always better than my memory. It's reminiscent of an orange, but more. More intense. More bright. More everything. One reason tangerines are so special to me is because, like pomegranates and real strawberries, they're only available for a little while every year. Bananas, oranges and apples, well, you can buy them any old time--Christmas as well as the Fourth of July--tangerines are only really available from November to January. Tangerines are actually a type of mandarin orange, as are clementines, but here in the US the names are used interchangeably.
While I still savor the first tangerine to eat for its own sake, I use them in cooking, too--and the peel is the real star when it comes to that. It contains most of the oil (and flavor) and is great finely chopped and added to muffin batter, quick breads like pumpkin or zucchini, or sprinkled into sugar cookies or shortbread. Use the peel or the juice anywhere you would normally use an orange or lemon. Because there is so little of the white pith on a tangerine peel, there's no need to scrape it away.
You aren't limited to tangerine season to use the peels, though. We save and freeze them to add a little zing to baked goods throughout the year. They chop easily when frozen and thaw quickly, so they're easy to use--try whipping a finely diced peel and a pressed garlic clove into a softened stick of butter for a delicious butter compound. The chopped peel is also delicious rubbed into poultry or pork before baking or grilling. For a light snack we like to toss the peels into the blender along with bananas, strawberries, orange or pineapple juice to make a delicious fruit smoothie.
As for the canned mandarin oranges--well, I just won't use them. That may make me a snob, but to me, the flavor of the canned ones is bitter and too grapefruity. (While I have a passion for tangerines, adore oranges, will eat lemons and limes plain, I have never been a grapefruit fan. Maybe I'll like them when I grow up. There's still time.) You don't have to resort to using canned mandarins. Now, while you can get fresh ones, buy a few extra, peel them (and save that peel), then remove the membranes if you want and pop them into a plastic freezer bag. They'll keep for several months and will taste much fresher and just plain better than the canned ones. You can use them just like you would canned mandarins in fruit salads, or for a delicious twist, try them (fresh or frozen) in a spinach or mixed green salad. This is especially good if you toss in some thinly sliced red onions that have been soaking in tangerine juice. Simple, but incredible--especially if you top it with baked chicken breast that was marinated in tangerine juice for several hours before cooking.
For dessert you can make a fabulous tangerine sorbet using the juice and peel.
- 8 tangerines
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Peel the tangerines and seed them, saving the peel from three. Puree the tangerines, the peel, water, sugar and lemon juice in a blender. Pour into a freezer-safe glass baking dish and freeze for several hours until it's solid, then thaw it for 10-15 minutes at room temperature. Process it in a blender or food processor until it's smooth then serve.
You can also add a tangerine accent to stir-fried dishes--add peeled segments during the last few minutes of cooking time. That tangerine stir fry is great served with tangerine-flavored rice--just add the finely-chopped peel from a tangerine to a cup of white or brown rice and two cups or chicken or vegetable stock and cook as you normally would.
Tangerine rice is also great with poultry--in fact, the flavor or tangerine in itself is terrific with all kinds of poultry. Try chopping a couple of tablespoons of peel with two cloves of garlic and rubbing the mixture under the skin of chicken before baking.
On their own, tangerines are a perfect addition to lunch boxes; a sweet, good-for-you treat that's small, easy to peel and great anytime. There's one waiting for me now, cool and ready in the fridge, so if you don't mind, I'll go eat it.
Section by section.
Every last luscious drop.