Winter citrus crop shows up on local menus

February 26, 2010 8:29:56 PM PST
Pastry chefs tend to gravitate toward the familiar key limes and meyer lemons. But Chicago also has access to blood oranges, kumquats and minneolas too. I spoke with one of the city's premier produce importers about the winter citrus crop and found a pair of chefs who just love the season's bounty.

Tom Cornille has been in the produce business his entire life. He's a third-generation fruit guy. So from inside a warehouse on the city's Southwest Side, he literally sees the future of Chicago's best menus. This time of year, it's winter citrus.

"It's a condensed season of all citrus and winter citrus is really all the way from the kumquat to the key lime to the grapefruit to the common orange to the meyer lemon," said Cornille.

Don't forget minneolas - that's half tangerine, half orange - and the underrated satsuma.

"We're all used to like little mandarin oranges and stuff and they're good, but there is so much sugar in the syrup that they use. All of a sudden we find that there's an acid, big shoulder based to a little, little, little, tiny fruit called the Satsuma," Cornille said.

Cornille's other great find this winter has been the pomelo. An ancestor to the modern grapefruit. "It's not bitter. It's really a wonderful treasure that we've never known, but all around the world recognizes it," said Cornille.

Michael Sheerin recognizes it too. As the Chef de Cuisine at Blackbird, on West Randolph, he dehydrates the large wedges to concentrate their flavor combining them with beauty heart radishes, Moosehead Island scallops and crumbled pine brittle for a knockout salad.

"Pomelo is also one of my favorite fruits. It's bitter like grapefruit, but it breaks apart like small cells as well. I like to intensify the flavors that we use here at Blackbird because I want to make sure you can taste, you know that that's what it's supposed to taste like," said Sheerin.

As for satsuma, pastry chef Patrick Fahy treats the wedges with extra care: peeling the membrane, turning its syrup into a liquor candy; creating a gel, as well as a freeze-dried form, plus, a foam and a sorbet. All this for a palate-cleansing "intermezzo" course.

"I was first introduced to satsuma tangerines in California, best tangerine I've ever had-bottom line. Came here was amazed that I could get them in Chicago. In California, it's no big deal, but in Chicago, I was surprised," said Fahy. "I really wanted to expose satsuma for what it is, in a lot of different shapes and varieties. A lot of different textures."

Cornille says since most of the winter citrus has already been picked, prices are not going to be affected by the Florida freeze. You'll see most of these items fade out on menus over the next few weeks.

George J. Cornille & Sons
at Chicago International Produce Market
2404 S. Wolcott Ave.

619 W. Randolph