Sugar, salt, booze, and beyond.
I spent $13.52 on a single piece of fruit, so I was darned sure I was going to get my money's worth. I've always balked at buying Buddha's hands. What does a person actually do with such a thing? And what even is a Buddha's hand? It's some sort of citrus, obviously, and a short-season one at that. But it's not as if you can just roll up to your local grocery story at any time of year and impulse-buy them to futz around with. So I did my homework. Then I got to zesting.
A Buddha's hand is a multi-fingered citron that, unlike a lemon or orange, is juice-free and straight-up peel and spongy pith. While this might seem like an extravagant bummer of a fruit, the magic of the Buddha's hand is that the whole thing is edible. The notion of wasting food is abhorrent to me (thank you, Catholic school nuns), so I was thrilled to learn that in addition to the heady outer peel, the pith is much less bitter than that of its juicy, spherical brethren, and can be sliced raw or cooked and used in salads, baked goods, preserves, pickles, infusions, or whatever strikes your fancy.
And that peel. A swipe of the Microplane or grater releases its bright, potent perfume, and the resultant zest brings lift and light to vegetables, vinegar, baked goods, and even booze. In the course of an afternoon, I used up every single scrap of this pricey produce making Buddha's hand salt, sugar, 'cello, preserves, and syrup. And if I could get my hands on another, I'd do it again.
Buddha's Hand Cello
Love limoncello? Buddha's hand cello is an extra-aromatic alternative to this high-proof citrus infusion. Using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, remove the rind in generous strips, working finger by finger if you must. Place those strips in a clear, tightly-lidded vessel and top them with a grain neutral spirit (like Everclear) or a 100-proof vodka. Drain the whole 750-milliliter bottle if you feel so moved. Close tightly, and let that mixture steep for at least 4 days, or 2-4 weeks if you have the patience.
When it's sufficiently perfumed (you'll know), strain out the solids with a fine mesh strainer or a clean linen towel. Make a simple syrup with 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar simmered together in a saucepan until thickened. Let that cool to room temperature, then pour half of it into the alcohol, stir thoroughly, and taste. Add more syrup until it's to your desired level of sweetness, then pour it into a lidded container, let it steep for two more weeks, and serve.
Note: Leftover syrup from the preserves recipe below makes the flavor even more robust.
Buddha's Hand Sugar and Salt
Zest the Buddha's hand peel and place it on a baking sheet in your oven, set at the lowest possible temperature (if it has a keep warm setting, that's ideal), and bake for 20 minutes. If the zest seems dry, remove it from the oven. Otherwise, check on it in 5-minute increments.
To make sugar: Combine 2 tablespoons of dried zest with 1 cup of sugar. Let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes, and if it's turned to sludge, add more sugar. Store in a sealed container, and let the flavors meld for about a week before using to top baked goods, make a rim for cocktail glasses, sprinkle on fruit, or seriously—just sniff. It's absolute heaven.
To make salt: Combine 4 tablespoons of dried zest with 1 cup of coarse or chunky salt (I prefer Maldon). Shake together or use a mortar and pestle or a few buzzes in a food processor to combine. Sprinkle it on vegetables or poultry, mix it into dressings, or use it anywhere that could use a hint of sunshine.
Buddha's Hand Preserves
- 1 Buddha's hand
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups sugar
- 2-3 thumb-sized pieces of ginger
- Peel or zest most of the rind from the Buddha's hand and cut the fingers into rounds. Cut away any hard parts around the stem end, and cut the base into small chunks.
- Place the Buddha's hand and ginger in a large saucepan, add lemon juice, water, and sugar, stir well and bring to a rapid boil over medium-high heat for 1 minute, then lower the heat. Let the mixture simmer until the Buddha's hand is completely tender and translucent, and the liquid has cooked down to a thick syrup.
- Using a slotted spoon, scoop out Buddha's hand chunks (save or discard the ginger), and put it in a sterilized jar with a tight-fitting lid. Fill the container nearly to the top, and then pour syrup over top. Extra preserves and syrup can be stored separately or together, and make a marvelous cocktail ingredient. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks. Serve on toast, or as a condiment with cheese.