Seville oranges are now making their long-awaited annual appearance in British greengrocers and supermarkets. Britain is the biggest market for these gloriously fragrant fruits, which have a very brief season from the end of December until the end of February; fortunately they freeze successfully. Wrap each unpeeled whole fruit individually in cling film, then pack into freezer bags and freeze until needed.
Muslim Moors introduced oranges to southern Spain. They prized the intensely aromatic peel and sharp juice for their invigorating and healing properties – they pounded the zest to a paste and ate it after a meal to aid digestion. The bitter juice was recommended to ‘hold back the heat of anger and mitigate the thirst’.
Right up until the early 19th century, whenever oranges were listed in recipes in English cookery books, this meant Seville oranges.
It’s interesting that sweet oranges remained unknown in England until the 15th century, when they began to be imported from Portugal and China.
Sweet oranges just can’t match the unique flavour of Sevilles in both sweet and savoury dishes, when sweet orange juice and peel would be too insipid and lacking depth of flavour. In any dessert calling for oranges, Sevilles will give much more flavour than sweet varieties. It was Seville oranges that inspired the creation of the famous liqueurs Cointreau and Grand Marnier and of course bittersweet orange marmalade.
In the UK, Sevilles are most often used to make marmalade, but their fresh, intense flavour and high acid content also make the fruit very versatile. I love the fragrant aromatic peel and sharp juice of highly scented Sevilles and find them invaluable in cooking.
Before using, wash the fruit gently in warm water and use a potato /apple peeler to remove the rind (Seville oranges don’t have a protective wax coating like other oranges, as the peel is used in cooking), but don’t include the white pith as this is too bitter. To obtain the maximum amount of juice from the oranges (or any other citrus fruit), warm the fruit first by pouring over boiling water and leave to stand for five minutes.
In Spain, Seville orange juice is used in fish dishes; the rind is candied with sugar and also incorporated into a delectable orange marzipan; and the tart segments are coated with sweet batter and fried until crisp. I like to slice the peeled fruit crossways and sprinkle with salt and a little olive oil to accompany fish (particularly salmon) dishes. In Iran, the juice is used instead of lemon with fish and other dishes. The sharp juice makes a wonderful alternative to lemon juice and produces marvellously tangy sauces and piquant salad dressings.
Any other ideas for using Seville oranges?