The ruby-tinged citrus fruit that brings so much vibrancy to these grey winter days.
Welcome to ingredient, where once a month I take a deep dive into some of my favourite seasonal and store cupboard ingredients. This month I’m focusing on blood oranges: the delicious, vibrant, ruby-tinged citrus fruit that bring so much brightness and colour to these grey winter days.
For paid subscribers click here for my recipes for my Blood Orange & Fennel Salad with Pine Nuts, Blood Orange Upside Down Cake, and my Blood Orange Roast Chicken Thighs.
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Blood oranges - for better or worse (because like the perfect avocado, you never know if you’ll get those perfect ruby segments or not when you slice into one) - are a wondrous thing to cook with during the first few months of the New Year. Used raw they add juicy, orange sweetness to salads, granola parfaits and grain bowls, but cooked their wonderful bitterness comes to the forefront.
We’ve been very lucky over here in the UK that supermarkets have really started to diversify their fresh produce offerings, so blood oranges - as well as blush oranges, which I find are usually better value as blood oranges can be so hit and miss if they actually look ‘bloody’ inside or not - are now something that can be enjoyed by all: when I first started cooking with these beauties, paying the steep prices at Borough Market was the only way to guarantee a good haul.
So, alongside Yorkshire forced rhubarb (sadly in short supply this year) blood oranges are what provide us with that first splash of colour at the start of the year. I also love that they’re a citrus fruit I can look forward to and still access where I live, with a defined, non-negotiable season: because they don’t travel well the Meyer lemons1 I adored in California rarely appear on my shores, and the Tangelos2 of my favourite Venice Farmers Market breakfast juice and which used to arrive with the bill at the sadly shuttered Salt Air on the nearby Abbot Kinney Boulevard are now distant memories.
Anyway, I’m getting distracted. Blood oranges. Right.
So what exactly is a blood orange? Well, a bit like the white Tempranillo grape it is a natural mutation that we’ve captured - discovered around the 18th century - and cultivated to capitalise on this seasonal beauty. There are a couple of different varieties, the Italian ‘Tarocco’, Spanish ‘Sanguinello’ and the Sicilian protected ‘Moro’, which probably accounts for why they can be a bit hit and miss with so many out there at such different price points. The colour develops at low temperatures, hence why it is very much a seasonal fruit. Sometimes the skin gets mottled with beautiful red pigment too, but as I’ll keep on saying (you can tell I’m often disappointed) that that sadly is no indicator of the flesh you’ll find inside.
Regardless, I’ve found even the most disappointing blood orange provides something a little bit more special than if I’d used a regular orange in a Blood Orange Margarita, and it will never fail to make me smile how mixing it with icing sugar will make the prettiest bold pink glaze. It’s February after all, the last bit we need to get through before spring arrives.
Turning to this months recipes, my Blood Orange & Fennel Salad with Pine Nuts is my twist on a classic Sicilian preparation from around this time of year that I can’t stop eating. The sweetness of the orange segments really stands out here, both in terms of flavour profile and visually - this is one you’ll want to arrange on a big platter for the table if you’ve got guests coming for dinner over the next few weeks.
Turning to a blood orange’s bitter nature when cooked, my Blood Orange Upside Down Cake creates its own orange caramel on top, lifted with just a hint of cinnamon. It is one of those cakes that is simple to make yet looks beautiful even in a solitary layer, and is perfect either for afternoon tea or for dessert with a dollop of your best creme fraiche. I’m immensely proud of it.
Finally, my Blood Orange Roast Chicken Thighs show off these bitter qualities also, but in a savoury format. Regular readers of my blog or of my first cookbook will know that skin on, boneless chicken thighs are one of my favourite things to make dinner with, so naturally I love a good seasonal variation. Here the blood oranges play two roles: as themselves in caramalised, slightly bitter bites, and in adding a little juiciness to the chicken juices in a beautiful sauce that is just begging to be mopped up with a nice bit of crusty bread. It’s one of those just throw it all together and leave it in the oven dinners you’ll want to add to your winter dinner rotation.
A delicious cross between a tangerine and a pomelo, tasting like artificially enhanced orange juice, but still obviously all natural.