A kumquat looks like a diminutive orange, but unlike citrus, the skin — not the flesh — is the sweetest part of this fruit. Pop a whole kumquat in your mouth, and it explodes with bright, contrasting flavors. Kumquats brighten up savory and sweet dishes, and they make a terrific cocktail, too.
Kumquats are native to China and the Cantonese name “kam kwat” translates to “gold orange.” They are a symbol of prosperity and a traditional gift at the Lunar New Year, common in Chinese households through the season. Though they taste and act like citrus, kumquats are technically from an evergreen. They grow on shrubs that are hardier than citrus trees, so they’ve been able to weather the harsh growing conditions in Florida this year.
This season’s crop is abundant and you’ll now find sunny piles of kumquats in local co-ops. Look for those that are brightly colored and firm, but tender, with no greenish tints or shriveled skins; avoid any with soft spots, cuts or bruises. Because you use the entire fruit, including the peel, look for certified organic kumquats to be sure they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides.
They can be displayed on the countertop for a couple of days, otherwise, store them in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks; plastic traps moisture and speeds decay.
Kumquats taste best eaten at room temperature; first, roll them between thumb and forefinger to release their aromas. They do have tiny seeds that can be removed when sliced, or discreetly spit out when the entire fruit is eaten. The rich and glossy leaves are not edible, but great for decoration.
Just as with citrus, kumquats are delicious in savory dishes as well as sweet. Cooking mellows their acidity so they make terrific accompaniments to seafood, duck and chicken. Sliced raw, kumquats add zing to dark green salads, especially those with watercress, arugula or frisée. With their yin-yang flavors, kumquats perk up the most ordinary plate:
• Toss sliced kumquats into a pan of root vegetables before roasting.
• Purée kumquats in a blender or food processor, sweeten to taste with sugar or honey to stir into plain yogurt or over vanilla ice cream.
• Garnish smoked salmon or trout with thinly sliced kumquats.
• Try a kumquat tonic (with a kick of gin or vodka). In an 18-ounce glass, muddle a sliced kumquat. Fill the glass with ice and tonic and, if you’d like, a jigger of gin or vodka. Garnish with a few kumquat slices.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.