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How to Cook with Citrus and Brighten Up All Your Meals

Why this fruit is simply the zest ingredient.

You know that refreshing feeling when you splash water on your face first thing in the morning? That’s what adding citrus does to every food it touches. Adding acidity to your food—whether with lemons,  limes, grapefruits, oranges, or some other obscure citrus I don’t know about yet—is my secret weapon to wake up any dish. A splash of citrus can make salad dressings brighter, fish taste fresher, and baked goods feel lighter, with a delightful tang to balance out anything sweet or salty. I don’t recommend splashing lemon juice directly on your face to wake up, but in this crazy world, maybe throwing some citrus around me everywhere wouldn’t be such a bad idea. But for starters, find out how to cook with citrus in three easy recipes.

ORANGES

Hands down, one of the best ways you can use citrus is in a marinade. It makes meat superrr tender and juicy, and elevates the flavor from “barely seasoned” to a “tangy, zesty masterpiece.” While lemon or lime juice may seem like the obvious choices here, oranges are actually a great option because in addition to tenderizing, they give the meat a hint of sweetness. Tip: Make sure you remove the seeds when squeezing the juice over the meat. When bitten into, they have a slightly bitter flavor (and not the good kind!). 

LEMONS

Lemons fall into the “top five indispensable ingredients” category. An easy weeknight meal comes together sooo quickly by just adding thin slices of lemon to a mild whitefish (like branzino) or salmon, followed by some freshly squeezed juice once the fish is fully cooked. You can also use the juice to punch up a vinaigrette, cover fish in it to make ceviche, and use the zest in pastry doughs to brighten things up and cut through the sweetness. Whatever you do, just make sure you don’t add lemon juice to your food too early; it can actually cause discoloration in the food or make things slightly bitter the longer it’s exposed.

LIMES

Limes may be small in size, but they are bold in flavor. Unlike lemons, which are more tart, limes have a distinct, mouth-puckering sour taste that really works to cut stronger flavors and heat, which is why they’re commonly used in Thai dishes. They’re also higher in acidity, so a little lime juice really does go a long way. I like a ton of lime juice in this herby, crunchy noodle salad recipe because it cuts the heat of the jalapeño and garlicky sambal oelek while playing nicely with the freshness of the herbs and salty fish sauce. It’s the perfect balance.

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