This is the first in a series of articles on Citrus.
Within cocktail circles, ‘fresh squeezed’ (or a la minute if you will) is the rallying cry for citrus. While I am not one to go against this, with all rules there are exceptions. This particular exception is the eponymous orange.
Freshly squeezed orange juice is in most cases insipid and may well ruin your cocktail. Oh my, that’s a strong statement (even with the qualifying clause)! Let me explain why I find it to be true.
The Orange Scene
First, let us consider the fruit itself. Most of us would first reach for an orange for orange juice and hand squeeze it at the point of service. This can really bite you in the ass, and you should blame the produce industry. Modern produce propagation is mainly concerned with yield, ease of harvest, appearance, and shelf life. Please note that “flavor” is not amongst them. Not to say that flavor is unimportant; as long as the flavor is non-offensive it is acceptable.
The most popular use for whole orange is for eating directly or zesting; not juicing. The most common nonseasonal varietal is the “common sweet orange,” followed by the Bahia Navel. Both of these have good features for our use: They are pleasing to eat, the rind contains decent oils and produces flavorful zest. The juice is almost always insipid on each. Use these lovely looking fruit for garnish and oil expression but please don’t juice them for use in your drink.
The Easy Fix: Varietals
Now, I’m sure many reading would be quick to point out the well known varietal Valencia is chiefly for juicing and this truth is the start of our journey. Most things growing in the ground have a peak of their flavor at a certain time of the year even when they produce year round. Valencias are no different. Their season (in the most liberal range) is from the end of spring until the beginning of autumn: One third of a year at most. Yes, you can likely find Valencias year round but as with the Navel and generic above, Off-season or shipped oranges are usually poor specimens for juicing.
Other varietals can help fill in the gaps in the year, and here are some to consider if they are available at your local Whole Joes:
Cara Cara: California:
Season: Late Autumn – Spring
This cross between two Navel varietals shows dark orange color and complex juice flavor. Most available come from California or shipped from Venezuela. You should favor the closer locality: everywhere should now be declaring the source of produce. The rind is thin yet produces good oils, I would suggest zesting for culinary uses rather than twists or expression.
Hamlin: Florida & California
Season: Mid Autumn – Mid Winter
This lovely little orange made it through the great freeze of 1875-6 which destroyed most other orange crops and plants. It has a high juice yield of a light, flowery orange flavor with undertones of honey. I prefer these oranges for the Nui Nui. The rind is thin and of little use, though it does aid in pliability for good juicing.
Valencia: California & Florida
Season: Late Spring – Early Autumn
Orange Juice products are produced from Valencia stock in season: While at the peak you cannot beat a good Valencia for the quintessential flavor of fresh juice. The rind is thinner than Navels yet still can yield good oil expression.
It isn’t impossible to find an accessible Navel or general sweet when in season from November to March. Your chances will improve greatly by looking for these characteristics: location, weight, color. The locality should be your closest coast line state: California or Florida. The weight should be heavy for its size – it should feel dense. The color should be as close to green as possible. All oranges are green in their native tropics: colder climes and senescence cause the process that lead to the reveal of the orange color. Yes. Oranges are green.
What are other options?
In Part II, orange juice products – both from concentrate or not from concentrate will be presented as possible replacements for fresh orange juice.