Introduction: Perfect Citrus Segments (Using Science!)
Awhile back, working prep at the first restaurant I ever worked at, my boss pulled me over and taught me how to make orange supremes for a couple of our salads. Orange supremes are those little orange slices that you see that have been removed from their surrounding membrane. Think canned oranges, but fresh. The membrane and pith have a bitter taste and, by removing them, it makes the fruit taste sweeter and have a better texture and appearance. We got to talking about how no one was really selling orange supremes in bulk and it would be useful and lucrative to develop a method for making supremes in volume to free up an employee. Here is my method for making orange supremes with minimal effort that enables bulk preparation and/or perfect quality.
Step 1: Gather Your Ingredients
The ingredients list here is super short and simple. Here's what you'll need.
Pectinase (Pectic Enzymes)
The citrus fruit of your choosing
A bowl of water
---The following are optional for a quicker method.---
An immersion circulator
Plastic bags (Ziploc or vacuum bags recommended)
A container of water
Step 2: Prepare Your Pectinase Bath
This is ultra simple. All you're doing in this step is adding pectinase to your bowl of water. Pectinase, being an enzyme, will work faster in higher concentrations and at higher temperatures up to a certain point, which I will revisit shortly. That being said, you don't need a lot. Using the bottle of pectinase and bowl of water pictured above, I only used a few drops of pectinase. You can also find pectic enzymes in a powdered form that will work. However, the most efficient pectinase I've found is Pectinex sold by Modernist Pantry.
What is pectinase/are pectic enzymes? Pectinase is an enzyme that breaks down pectin. Pectin is found in the walls of plant cells and helps to bind them together. Break down the pectin and you break the bonds holding together cell walls. This is the process that is going to remove the pith and membrane from your citrus segments.
Step 3: Peel Your Citrus
Next step is almost as easy as the previous one. All you're doing here is peeling your chosen citrus fruit and then breaking it apart into its individual segments.
Step 4: Put Segments in the Bath and Wait
The next preparatory step here is just as easy as the ones before it. Just put the citrus segments you've got into the pectinase bath you've made and wait. Temperature and pectinase concentration are going to be your big variables in how long this is going to take. You can throw this bowl in the fridge and it will take a day or so. You can leave it at room temp on the counter and it will take a few hours. If you have an immersion circulator, you can put the citrus segments and pectinase bath in a bag and put it in a water bath at about 125 degrees Fahrenheit and this process can take as little as a half hour. Keep an eye on this though. If left in the pectinase for too long, plant matter can turn to mush.
Step 5: Rinse and Enjoy
Last step here is to simply rinse these off. You're going to want to remove all of the pectinase from these to stop breaking down pectin in the remaining fruit segments so they don't turn to mush. You can store these in fresh water for up to about a week. If you store them in a simple syrup, they'll keep for slightly longer than just using fresh water and end up sweeter.
Side note: pectinase can be used to deteriorate pretty much any plant matter. It's not uncommon to see it used in juicing, winemaking, and juice clarification.