This is one of the first recipes I ever made for dinner guests. I was following the Cordon Bleu cookery course in the magazines that arrived at our newsagent every month. These caramelized oranges graced the cover of the very first issue. They were part of a dinner party menu that included potage madrilène, a rich tomato soup with sherry, and poulet Veronique, or chicken with grapes. Those French names were really exotic in the 1970s. I’ve kept all the magazines and carried them with me around the world. While the photography is now very dated, they are a good reference. I still make the oranges in caramel sauce, although often I replace them with tangerines. And now I cook the caramel longer than the ladies of the Cordon Bleu school recommended. A simple and delicious dessert, it is much more interesting when the caramel has a bitter edge. This is a good recipe to try if you are scared of burning the caramel. You can taste the sauce to assess its bitterness before pouring it on the oranges.
Cut a slice off the top and bottom of each orange to reveal the flesh. Stand the fruit upright on a cutting board and, cutting from the top down to the bottom, remove the peel and pith. Set the peel of 1 orange aside. Cut each orange into 5 slices and place them in a bowl. If using tangerines, peel and cut in half.
Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice, and set aside.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the sugar, then shake the pan so that the sugar forms an even layer. Place over medium heat and cook, shaking the pan from time to time, until the sugar melts. As the sugar melts, gently swirl the pan to mix the sugar granules with the liquid sugar; you can give the mixture a stir to blend in any uncooked sugar. Once all the sugar has turned into liquid caramel, continue to cook until it is a rich, dark caramel color. You will smell the caramel and see it smoking quite a bit.
Remove the pan from the heat and dip the base of the pan into the bowl of cold water to stop the caramel from cooking further. Carefully add the warm water to the caramel, which will spit and splutter. Return the pan to low heat and cook, stirring, to dissolve the caramel in the water; this can take up to 10 minutes. When it is dissolved, pour it into a jug and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, cut the peel you set aside into roughly equal rectangles. Remove some of the white pith but not all, then cut the peel into thin matchsticks. Put some water into the pan you used to cook the caramel and bring to a boil over medium heat. This will help remove any traces of caramel in the pan. When boiling, drop in the orange matchsticks, cook for 1 minute, and then drain.
Pour the sauce over the orange slices in the bowl, sprinkle with the orange peel, and chill for several hours before serving. As the oranges sit, their juice mixes into the caramel sauce, turning it into a caramel syrup.
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Reprinted with permission from Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.
Jennifer McLagan has presented at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Master Class Series and the Epicurean Classic in Michigan. Her writing has appeared in Fine Cooking, Food & Drink, The Country Grapevine and The Niagara Grapevine. She is the author of Bones, which won the James Beard award for Best Single Subject Cookbook; Fat, which won the James Beard award for Best Single Subject Cookbook and was named Cookbook of the Year by the Beard Foundation; and Odd Bits.