July 9, 2012
segment de l’orange sanguine
If enzymatic peeling sounds like something performed by a licensed esthetician on your face, you’d be correct. If it sounds like something you could do yourself to citrus fruit, you’d also be correct. In both cases, exfoliation is the happening thing.
I was first exposed to enzymatic peeling at the French Culinary Institute in January of 2011. It was the second day of a two‑day class on hydrocolloids and the instructor, Dave Arnold, had one of the assistants bring a roasting pan full of grapefruit segments from the back room. They were floating in a slightly red, clear liquid. The segments were in various stages of nakedness. Some were stripped totally bare of their albedo, exposing squeaky clean juice vesicles. Others had their albedo netting all or partially attached. The grapefruit peels floating in the liquid had their albedo softened or removed, but that didn’t interest me much. It was those naked juice vesicles that caught my attention.
The totally clean segments reminded me of the canned mandarin orange segments that my mother starting serving in the early 1960s. Packed in simple syrup, these bare segments always seemed so special. They were chemically peeled with lye, which made them appear different from the segments my mother disassembled from fresh oranges, which still had their bitter albedo covering attached.
As Dave Arnold described the process for enzymatic peeling my heart rose and then crashed. The process didn’t seem difficult, but the enzymes was only available industrial‑sized containers. But then in the fall, a company called Modernist Pantry started selling all the necessary chemicals for all the new “modernist” cooking techniques. After a couple of clicks, a 70‑ml (23⁄8‑fl oz) bottle of Pectinex Ultra SP‑L was coming my way via the U.S. Postal Service.
The bottle sat on my shelf for a month until a few dozen, not so bloody, blood oranges landed on my doorstep. I decided it was time. I knew that the enzyme is diluted in water to a concentration of 4 g⁄l (0.134 oz⁄qt). I peeled and segmented a couple of the blood oranges, and threw them in a cup with 250 ml (11⁄16 c) of the mixed solution. The cup was placed in the refrigerator overnight, and the next morning I rinsed off the albedo in a stream of cold water. The few little fibers remaining were easily removed with a slight tug with some tweezers. It was only later that I read that I was supposed to vacuum‑pack the segments and “cook” them at 40 °C (104 °F) for a couple of hours.
The segments still tasted like what they were—sour—but they looked cute. So I tried a couple of ways to correct the situation. I tried dipping them in sugar heated to a hard‑crack temperature, but I didn’t have the right tools for the dipping. I tried coating them with sweetened gellan, but the sweetness of the coating didn’t blend with the sourness of the segment.
A week or so later, guests were coming for dinner, and I decided to try the sugar coating again. This time, the segments were individually impaled on bamboo skewers. As each was quickly dipped, it was handed off to the diner standing next to me in the kitchen. Each of my guests was encouraged to enjoy the hard‑surfaced segment while it was still a little warm on the outside. It got them off their bottoms for a break in a five‑hour long meal and simplified my serving the segments to them.
To prepare the blood orange segments, I soaked them overnight as described above. After cleaning them, I arranged the segments on a cooling rack and air dried them for the remainder of the day in the refrigerator. For the sugar, I simply placed a saucepan containing a scoop of sugar and a tablespoon of water over high heat until the sugar reached 160 °C (320 °F). When appropriate, I swirled the contents in the the pan instead of stirring it.
The combination of the warm, hard coating with the cold, soft fruit made for a delightful mouthful. The bringing of my guests into the kitchen and having them participate made for tasty entertainment.