I think of grapefruit as the cinderella of fruits. Next to its citrus stepsisters, the sweet orange and that vibrant little tart, the lemon, grapefruit comes off as rather plain, even sour. Perhaps the kindest compliment to come the grapefruit's way is that eating it helps to undo caloric damage done by richer foods. Unfortunately, this culinary penance is nothing more than a myth. The real allure of a grapefruit lies in the uniquely cleansing flavor found under its thick, dull skin.
Grapefruit, or Citrus paradisi, is a newcomer to the citrus clan, which dates back to East Asia more than 20 million years ago. Born in the Caribbean around 1750, grapefruit is the accidental offspring of the sweet orange and the pummelo. The fruit most likely got its name not for its flavor, but because it grows on trees in grape-like clusters. Between 1809 and 1823, a French count introduced grapefruit in Florida and, following a rocky period of rejection, America acquired a taste for the big, bulbous fruit. Today we annually consume an estimated 6.3 pounds per capita and grow about 2.5 million tons of grapefruit, about half of which is turned into juice.
Still, sweetness being the characteristic most sought after in a fruit, grapefruit has yet to be fully appreciated for its sharp flavor. Even the less-acidic varieties, such as Star Ruby and Rio Red, can be bitter--hence the typical dressing up of a grapefruit by sprinkling it with sugar or honey, dabbing it with butter and broiling it. "In this country, we shy away from bitterness," says chef Troy MacLarty, a teaching assistant at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, in St. Helena.
Meanwhile, scientists at UC Riverside have created--and are still improving on--what could become America's dream grapefruits, which really aren't grapefruits at all but their half-siblings. For example, the Oroblanco and Melogold, introduced to the public in the 1980s as the progeny of white grapefruit and the low-acid pummelo, have fewer seeds and are sweeter and more easily peeled than either of their parents.
These hybrids, according to Bob Polito, whose parents founded Polito Family Farms in 1968 in Valley Center, attract customers at Los Angeles-area farmers markets who don't normally like the tartness of grapefruit. But chefs around town don't need convincing. Polito's regular restaurant customers include Spago, The Little Door, and Campanile, where pastry chef Kim Sklar uses Oroblancos in sorbets and ice cream and candies the rinds the way she would orange rinds.
Still, despite all the hype over new hybrids, grapefruit has its loyalists, such as Napa Valley's chef Michael Chiarello of Tra Vigne fame, who admits that "many grapefruit are bitter and pithy, but if you look past the center aisle at more unusual varieties, it is a spectacular family." Chiarello likes to use grapefruit as a refreshing contrast in a lamb loin winter stew. Or he suggests sprinkling the fruit with unprocessed sea salt and pairing it with rich, creamy ingredients, such as Gorgonzola and avocado for a tangy spring salad. "I love it with tarragon, of course, and fennel, anise, coriander," he says. The juice and rind of sweeter varieties, he adds, can be used in place of lemon for a refreshing twist on basic dressings, such as hollandaise or mayonnaise. Or when baking, grapefruit can be used in place of lemon when the recipe calls for juice or zest, but it's important to reduce the amount of sugar used at the same time. And since grapefruit zest is not as vibrant as that of lemons, it leaves room to add flavors, such as candied fruit peel, crystallized ginger, anise, or even rosemary to a dish.
Last March, at the University of California Citrus Variety Collection Dinner honoring 865 varieties of citrus--36 of which were grapefruit--the Cinderella of citrus was far from ignored. For the dessert, MacLarty slipped grapefruit and navel orange wedges into a Citrus in Sherry Simple Syrup for the crowning note on a pine nut tart. "In the last few years, I've gotten into grapefruit. They're kind of complex," he muses. "You taste and they're not just sweet. You realize there's something else going on there."
SHRIMP WITH PINK GRAPEFRUIT
1/2 pound shrimp (fairly large), patted dry
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons bottled clam juice
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon grated grapefruit zest
1 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon
8 to 10 fresh grapefruit sections, either Ruby Red or
In a skillet large enough to hold the shrimp in one layer, heat oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Saute shrimp, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until pink and firm. Transfer shrimp to a plate. Add wine to skillet, deglaze skillet, scraping up brown bits, and stir in clam juice, shallot, grapefruit juice, zest and sugar. Boil liquid until it is reduced to about 1/3 cup. Set pan over low heat and whisk in butter cubes, one at a time, adding each new cube before the previous one has melted completely. Sauce should not get hot enough to liquefy: It should be the consistency of thin hollandaise. Add scallion, tarragon, and shrimp and grapefruit sections with any juices that have accumulated on the plate and heat mixture until shrimp are heated through. Divide mixture between four plates and garnish each plate.
3/4 cup (11/2) sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon grapefruit rind
1/4 cup white grapefruit juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
11/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 cup minced crystallized ginger
1/4 cup grapefruit juice
1 cup confectioner's sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-by-2-inch loaf pan.
Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together for about five minutes, until light in color. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add grated rind and juice. Add the vanilla and mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder and powdered ginger. Add the flour mixture all at once and crystallized ginger to butter mixture. Stir in minced ginger. At low speed, blend for 30 seconds or until all flour is mixed in.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. While cake is baking, make glaze. Mix the juice with the confectioner's sugar, trying to avoid making any lumps. Cool before removing cake from pan, about 30 minutes, then pour glaze over cake.
Citrus in Sherry Simple Syrup
Adapted from a recipe by Troy MacLarty of the
Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons Spanish dry sherry
1 tablespoon grapefruit juice
1 grapefruit or Oroblanco or Melogold
1 navel orange
Bring sugar and water to a boil and reduce to desired consistency. Should be about as thick as honey, as sherry and juice will thin syrup. Cool syrup. Add sherry and grapefruit juice gradually, stopping when syrup is still thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour over segmented citrus such as grapefruit, oranges, mandarins or Meyer lemons. Serve with poundcake.
Spring Citrus Salad
Adapted from a recipe by Rose Polito of Polito Farms
4 cups greens, such as a mixture of red leaf lettuce and baby arugula
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
3 Oroblancos or grapefruits, sectioned with juices saved
1 avocado, diced
1/4 cup Moroccan black olives
1/2 cup sweet Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon tarragon or dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Half-dozen turns of freshly ground black pepper
Wash lettuce, making sure to dry well. Slice onions by first cutting in half, then, with flat side down, slicing into thin slivers or half-moon shapes. Add to lettuce, along with avocados, olives and Gorgonzola. Make vinaigrette: Combine juice and vinegar. Gradually add oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Add sugar, tarragon or dill, salt and pepper. Pour over greens and toss carefully, using your hands.
Carolynn Carreno last wrote about avocados for the Entertaining section.