Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cooking at home: Candied Kumquats

I found these beautiful kumquats in a farmers' market recently and thought they are perfect for my spring cooking projects. Kumquats are one of the few citrus fruits that you can eat as a whole, with their thin skins on. The slightly bitter zest combined with sweet, juicy flesh created this unique, complex tangy taste that are good on its own, or along side with other food, in savory dishes or desserts.

To prepare kumquats, our local tradition is to pickle them in salt and keep in a airtight jar for as long as you can resist eating them. Pickled kumquats - when mashed and mixed with warm water - are said to be an effective herbal remedy for sore throat or cough, or even as a refreshing drink when mixed with 7-up or soda (commonly served in local Vietnamese restaurants). Once I even used that in one of my Moroccan-inspired tagine dishes (with chicken, olives and couscous) as substitute to the traditional preserved lemon - it gave a more mellow, fuller flavor than lemon, plus nicer color combination with its bright orange skin.

However, this time I decided to make candied kumquats instead. I don't know whether there's any medicinal value by preserving them in sweet syrup, but they sure made perfect condiments for cheese or desserts. They are quick to prepare, ready to eat immediately or can keep in a jar for a while.

Candied Kumquats (yields 3 small jars)

2 lbs of kumquats
Equal Part of Sugar and Water
Spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamon etc) - Optional

1. If you are going to preserve the kumquats in a jar, wash and sterilize the jar according to manufacturer's instructions. Make sure they are completely air-dried before use.
2. Wash kumquats thoroughly in running water. Put them in a sauce pan, cover with water and heat until water reaches boiling point. Discard the hot water and repeat this blanching process twice. (this is to minimize the bitterness from the skin)
3. Remove the stem on top of the kumquat without damaging the skin. Cut open the kumquats by slit across the fruit with a knife - try not to cut them in half - and use a toothpick to remove the seeds inside. You might leave a few seeds behind by accident but that's okay - the smaller seeds are edible or just remove the seeds before you eat the fruit later on.
4. If you are using spices, ground them before use. Though this is optional, spices - when used sparingly - added an exotic dimension of flavors to the final product. Try experiment with different spices - my favorite is cinnamon.
5. Return kumquats to the sauce pan, cover in water, sugar (both in equal parts) and the grounded spices.
6. Heat the pan in stove in medium setting, stir gently until sugar is completely dissolved. Turn down the heat and simmer the kumquats for 15 minutes in boiling water. Remove the kumquats from the pan and set aside in a bowl. Continue to reduce the remaining liquid in the sauce pan until it turns thick and syrupy (it takes about an additional 30 minutes).
7. Distribute kumquats evenly into the jars. Pour the syrup into the jar and fill until the fruits are fully immersed in the syrup. Be sure to leave some space from the rim so the lid can make a good seal for preserving. Seal the jar according to instruction.
8. Cool the sealed jar at the counter overnight until it reaches room temperature, and keep the jar in refrigerator until ready to use.

If you decided to eat them immediately, skip Step 1, 7 and 8. Let the candied kumquats cool in a bowl with the syrup, and slice or finely dice them to the shape you want.

I love the enticing smell of cinnamon, so sometimes I would keep a small stick of it in each jar so its aroma can be further infused into the fruit. My favorite way to do with candied kumquats is to spoon the fruit and drizzle the syrup on top of ice cream or panna cotta or cheesecake, or make a drink with honey and water for a soothing treat. Similarly they work well with a wide variety of cheese from the milder and creamy brie, to stronger feta or goat cheeses, or just a simple slice of baguette - think of these as a chunkier version of chutney. You can even use them for your savory appetizer or main courses - I reckon it would be perfect for magret de canard (seared duck breast)!

And if you ended up making too much for yourself - pass the extras out as gifts to friends and loved one, especially during Chinese New Year. I am sure they would enjoy these cute little jars and the cute little fruits inside.

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