Wednesday, March 29, 2006

An Enigma wrapped in a Kumquat

It’s pretty much the end of Kumquat season. I’ve been buying them on occasion for the last several months, and apparently this is about to end for a while.

This fruit was always an enigmatic oddity for me.

First off, they were not physically available, to my knowledge, where I grew up. Although I have to say though that they were certainly not on anyone’s grocery list, so maybe they were there, and we didn’t know it. Maybe someone was putting them in their marshmallow jello fruit salad all the time. Maybe we had even had one and not known it? Hmmm.

In fact, I don’t think were would have even realized what it was we were looking at had we spotted some in the market. They just weren’t part of our core ‘cuisine’ (i.e. they didn’t come frozen as part of a TV dinner) when I was young.

The name was somehow familiar. It’s an unusual sounding sort of name, and sticks once you’ve heard it. But to us it was a funny sort of name. So the name became sort of the punch line of jokes, despite the fact that no one knew exactly what one was. The Kumquat itself became something more conceptual, like humor, than a thing you might eat.

When I finally did notice them (they had in fact been all around all the time, as I suspected earlier) the mystery continued.

Do you peel them? And if so, how? I mean, they’re pretty small.

Or are they squeezed, for juice in the morning? It would take a hundred to make one glass of juice. We’d already had enough fun with Key Limes – they were hard enough to squeeze.

And trying to break them into sections for a fruit plate? Forget it.

So I was sort of amused upon moving here, and meeting people for whom Kumquats are part of their cuisine. I found out that you just pop them into your mouth. Whole. Peel, seeds, whatever. You bypass all the tedious preparation and just eat them directly.

Eaten this way, they seem much more like grapes than oranges. And that is more or less the way they seem to be used in cooking - more like grapes than oranges. Beautiful little orange flavored grapes - brilliant!

Well, this works for me. I’m all for flavor at minimal effort. So I decided, in typical fashion, to buy some, and figure out what exactly to do with them later.

First, we dared each other to try one. Whole. After that thrill wore off, there were still many left. That batch turned a bit green before they got used, and ended up discarded.

Well, that didn’t slow me down. I bought another bunch of them. They’re pretty cheap, and they look nice in a basket on the shelf if nothing else. Everyone groaned. “Not those things again!”

That’s my battle cry. I was determined to find a way to prepare these things that would quell the detractors.

First step – don’t tell anyone.

It’s funny how if you try something, like it, and find out later what it is, you can get over the psychological hurdle that prevented you from perceiving its intrinsic goodness. Since these things are orange, and cooked resemble an orange, I let everyone think they were getting oranges – which everyone for the most part likes.

The first attack was a Kumquat Chutney sauce for fish. In this recipe, the Kumquat flavor is right there to explore, and the 5 spice powder gives it just a hint of peppery background. This was excellent – and will be repeated tonight. Just as planned – everyone thought they were getting a nice orange sauce for the fish. And only gradually noticed that it was not quite a normal orange. Too late! They had already admitted to liking it.

Next came a Kumquat vinaigrette for salad. Again – wonderful, but the stuff of a future Blog.

Today, along with the Kumquat chutney, which I will put on pan fried Tilapia, I want to try a Kumquat flavored flan. I think that the orangey flavor of the Kumquat will go well with the caramelized sugar and egg yolk flavors. And you can believe me when I say I am not (yet) a flan expert. But it’s gotten into my blood, and they will be made (I saw Michael Chiarello making flans on Food Network). I won’t be able to reveal the results of this madness until tomorrow – but keep your fingers crossed! I’ll post a photo – success or failure.

Pan-Roasted Tilapia on Orange Sauce with Kumquat Chutney

8 Tilapia fillets
Olive oil
1 cup flour
1 tbsp curry powder
½ tbsp cayenne pepper
salt, pepper
2 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
orange rind strips
½ cup white wine
¼ cup orange juice
Kumquat Chutney (recipe follows)
Kumquat slices for garnish
Parsley, chopped, for garnish

Prepare Kumquat chutney and reserve.

Combine flour, curry power, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper on a flat plate. Preheat olive oil in a sautee pan. Dredge each fillet lightly in the flour mixture, and shake off extra flour. Sautee Tilapia fillets on both sides until lightly browned. Remove from pan and reserve in a warm oven on a heat proof plate.

Add additional olive oil to pan. Sautee shallots and garlic for 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Deglaze pan with the white wine, scrapping up and bits stuck to the bottom. Add the orange strips and orange juice. Bring to a simmer and reduce until thickened.

To plate, place a few tbsps of the orange reduction sauce on a plate. Place the Tilapia fillet on top. Spoon some of the Kumquat chutney over the fillet. Decorate with the Kumquat slices and parsley. Serve. Enjoy!

Kumquat Chutney

2 cups Kumquats, sliced in half, seed removed
1 orange, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ cup red onion, minced
2-3 thin slices of fresh, peeled ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp 5 spice powder
2 tsp red wine vinegar
½ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup sugar, or to taste
Olive oil

Add olive oil to a hot sauté pan. Add onion, garlic, Kumquats, orange, ginger and 5 spice powder. Sautee for a few minutes over medium heat. Add red wine vinegar, orange juice, and sugar. Reduce heat, and simmer over low heat until mixture thickens.

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Blogger ilva said...

I like this, I'm looking forward to the rest of your experiments! I also have this urge to buy them when I see them and then I just don't know what to do with the little bast..ds! I have only made kumquatcello, i.e. limoncello made on kumquats, not bad but I still prefer the lemon version, nothing beats that!

11:19 PM  
Anonymous bea at La Tartine Gourmande said...

Great post on the kumquats. I just made a carpaccio appetizer where you eat them whole, just thinly slices, but remove seeds.

6:03 AM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Ilva - Thanks for the comment. The Kumquat chutney has been the best so far. It goes well with fish and chicken. The flan is under way - chilling overnight, and will be released (I hope!) this evening!

bea - thanks for tyour comment as well! The carpaccio sounds very interesting. Is there a recipe on your site?

10:55 AM  
Anonymous bea at La Tartine Gourmande said...

I will post it soon!

9:18 AM  

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