Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sweet satsumas yield intense seasoning

I've been a fan of oranges for a long time. As a child, while visiting my snowbird grandparents in Florida, I remember eating them fresh picked. Years later they became a pregnancy obsession, when for nearly nine months I'd eat several juicy globes daily. More recently, I've transferred my allegiance to petite clementines, whose fresh scent often attracts curious co-workers when I devour them at my desk.

In the past few weeks, however, I've become acquainted with the satsuma, the much sexier cousin whose deep flavor, abundant juice and shimmery zest has assumed a starring role in my kitchen -- where I often can be found eating them over the sink. I've made luscious curd and will soon sample homemade triple sec. I've used their juice to glaze roasted beets. I've also made satsuma dust.

That's right. Dust.

I got the idea from Pen & Fork, which recently posted a blog on Mandarin Orange Dust. I made some tweaks -- most notably, I had no luck slicing the satsumas with my mandoline, which tore these precious gems into shreds and wasted juice. The food processor fitted with a medium slicing blade yielded consistently wafer thin, glistening slices.

Making satsuma dust is a time-consuming process, but most of that time is hands off waiting for the slices to slowly dry in the oven. Depending on how thin the slices are, expect a minimum of two hours and up to about three. The slices need to be fully dried and cooled for effective processing in an electric grinder. The addition of kosher salt and sugar helps to achieve a fine grind as well as balance any bitterness from the peel.

About 2 pounds of fruit made a generous batch of powder, much of which I've packaged in 1 ounce containers to share with friends as holiday gifts. It would be good sprinkled on shortbread or sugar cookies, blended into a vinaigrette or used to punch up just about anything that could stand a citrus kick. Mixed with an equal amount of mild smoked paprika, I've used it to make a terrific dry rub for pork loin. Rub liberally on the meat, then seal in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour. Let sit on the counter about 20 minutes to loose its chill before grilling.

Satsuma Dust
2-2 1/2 lbs. satumas (or other variety)
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Wash and dry satsumas. Place two at a time in feed chute of food processor fitted with medium slicing blade. Use light pressure to ensure even slices and minimal juice loss. Arrange in single layer on parchment paper over baking sheets and place in oven.

Start checking after about 90 minutes but expect the drying to take two to three hours. Slices should be dry to the touch and deep orange or lightly browned. If necessary, pluck out quick-drying slices and let the rest continue cooking.

When all slices are dry and cooled, mound by the handful in bowl of a spice grinder. Top each load with 1/2 tsp. sugar and about 1/4 tsp. salt. Pulse until broken into bits, then grind to a fine powder. Transfer mix to a bowl and continue until done.

You may need to adjust salt/sugar at the end to ensure an appealing balance of flavor. The dust should pack an explosive orange punch without bitterness. If you need to add more salt or sugar, return a few spoonfuls of mix to the grinder to ensure consistent texture, then blend well into balance of dust before packaging.

Tiny California satsumas with big flavor have been available lately at our local Whole Foods store, which recently ran a special for $4.99 a bag -- plus one free if you bought three. They're wonderful, but they've got nothing on the bigger ones grown in Louisiana and sold by L'Hoste, the state's largest provider of organic citrus.

Sadly, the season has passed and this family-run operation will not have more satsumas until next year, but I was lucky to get one of the last boxes. The price sounded steep at $38, but they were packed with care and are almost shockingly delicious. They were sent with a handwritten invoice -- a sign of confident trust from a farmer that surely sees a lot of return business. I can hardly wait for next fall to get more.

Clockwise from top: Navel orange, L'Hoste
satsuma and smaller California variety.

1 comment:

  1. We adore Satsumas! They have two seasons here in CA, starting late Nov. or early Dec., disappearing for a time early in the year and then popping back up. I learned to make a "polvero" (dust) of citrus zests in Sicily but never to dry and grind the whole fruit as you have. Fascinating. We'll have to give it a try!