The inimitable Seville orange has a flavor and fragrance that, when used in savory cooking, imparts dishes a subtle tartness and slight bitterness.( Chloe Zale /)
This story originally featured on Saveur.
In Latin American and Caribbean sells, next to the mountain of limes, you will almost always find a bin of wrinkly, splotchy citrus fruit. These humble orbs–Seville oranges–shouldn’t be borne in mind. They lend a unique combination of bracing bitterness and subtle sournes to savory and sweet bowls alike.
For many, this roughly baseball-sized fruit may be familiar from its headlining role in orange marmalade, to which it gives its characteristic bite. Others might know it as the key seasoning agent in orange liqueurs like Curacao and Grand Marnier. The fruit was also used in early versions of duck a l’orange. But this particular orange is, especially in Latin American and Caribbean cuisines, much more fundamental to savory home cooking.
Like all citrus fruits, the Seville orange–also known as the bitter orange, or sour orange–is best when firm and heavy, becoming soft and somewhat mushy with age. However, a little of day doesn’t compromise the flavor and fragrance of its floozy juice and aromatic zest. Many Latin american states groceries( and of course, Amazon) stock bottled versions of the juice, which are often labeled “naranja agria” and are typically shelved by the vinegars and marinades. The packaged product is a decent substitute, but it absence the lively nuance of the fresh stuff.
In a good Seville orange, oily and aromatic skin easily gives lane to thick, bitter pith, followed by its heavily seeded segments. In her volume Gran Cocina Latina, cook and culinary historian Maricel E. Presilla describes the fruit’s flavor as a “careful blend of lime, grapefruit, and orange juice with a small amount of grapefruit or sweet lime zest.” Ana Sofia Pelaez writes in The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History that, absent-minded Seville oranges, “equal parts of freshly squeezed orange and lime juice can be substituted.” For me, though, the Seville orange is inimitable, with an fragrance and elegant tartness that can lift flavors without turning foods sour.
Cuban mojo, this red Canarian version–made with chiles, wine-colored vinegar, and olive oil–is considered by many to be the ancestor of the citrusy Caribbean condiment. ‘ data-has-syndication-rights= “1” height= “2 175 ” src= “https :// www.popsci.com/ resizer/ 6bFnW9b_Y2yfVWQwGMAQApeIkpE =/ cloudfront-us-east-1. images.arcpublishing.com/ bonnier/ AK2X4YBN7BEFND27FRHLEUKMUQ. jpg” width= “2 900 ” /> Worlds apart from Cuban mojo, this red Canarian version–made with chiles, wine-colored vinegar, and olive oil–is considered by many to be the ancestor of the citrusy Caribbean condiment.( Monica R. Goya /)
Massens encountered another source of Cuban food traditions where reference is inspected Spain’s Canary Islands. The cook was already familiar with mojo, an essential condiment and marinade in Cuban cuisine, but the Canarian mojo he savor was different. Whereas the Cuban sauce he knew combined Seville orange juice, lard, garlic, and oregano, this Canarian version was built with wine-coloured vinegar, olive oil, chiles, garlic, cumin, and smoked paprika. Nevertheless, the connection was clear.
Many Canarians arrived in Cuba as early as the 17 th century, when government officials in mainland Spain believed that the islands had an overpopulation problem. The Spanish Crown decreed that Canarians would be subject to a so-called “Tribute of Blood.” This tribute forced five Canarian families to be relocated to the American colonies in exchange for every ton of goods those settlements shipped back to Spain. In both the 19 th and 20 th centuries, economic strifes forced subsequent waves of Canarians to emigrate to the Americas; Cuba was usually the first stop on the voyage, and many hit their home there. These immigrants , no longer able to grow olives and grapes, likely adapted their traditional mojo recipe to use locally available citrus juice and pork fat.
[ Related: Get the recipe for Nicaraguan-style carne asada]
Seville oranges likewise play a significant role in Haitian cooking. Luz Bryson, a Haitian American dwelling cook based in Atlanta, described to me how her mother uses zoranj su( the fruit’s Haitian-Creole name) “to clean meat before marinating it.” Bryson explained that “the bitterness of the sour orange not only removes strong, gamey odors from the flesh, but also tenderizes it.”
Bryson’s mother is not alone: Many cooks–from Haiti and beyond–extol zoranj su’s tenderizing abilities, which are similar to those of papaya or pineapple. Chef Massens, for one , aware of the fact that the juice can “tenderize meat in the same way that lime can affect protein in a ceviche.” In fact, my own Peruvian grandmother told me that ceviche was originally stirred employing Seville orange juice. While key lime is now the citrus of select for most contemporary Peruvian ceviches, some regional recipes still incorporate Seville orange juice, including ceviche de pato, a red-hot, cooked duck dish from the northern parts of the Lima Region, especially around the city of Huacho.
However, Seville orange juice doesn’t denature swine proteins( effectively “cooking” them) as aggressively as limes, which establishes the oranges more versatile. Massens laments that despite the fruit’s potential, many cooks are “stuck on it for marinades.” Its juice can supersede lemon or lime in desserts like key lime tart or lemon squares; in citrus-forward savory bowls like chicken piccata; or even in a Caribbean-inspired black bean hummus.