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Use zest to bump up the flavor in your recipes

When a recipe calls for zest, it's referring to the outermost layer of a citrus fruit -- that colored part of the skin that gives oranges, lemons and limes their vibrant hues. It's the zest that contains those rich, fragrant oils that give so much flavor to a dish or recipe.

There are many ways to zest a fruit, whether using a citrus zester (pictured above), a grater, a microplane or rasp, a vegetable peeler or even a good old-fashioned paring knife.  Simple as it may be, there are still some tips to keep in mind:

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  • Make sure you remove only the outermost layer of colored zest, leaving the white pith behind. The pith is bitter, and that bitterness can overpower the flavor of the zest, affecting the final recipe.

  • Zest your citrus first, before juicing or using any other part of the fruit in a recipe. It's easier -- zesting a juiced fruit is like trying to zest a flat tire.

  • Choose your method of zesting based on how it will be used in a recipe. If the zest is strictly for flavor, I prefer a rasp or grater -- I find the blades don't cut quite as "clean" as a zester or knife, slightly bruising the zest as it's removed to release more oils for flavor. If I'm using the zest as a garnish (candying it to top a cake, or using it to complete a cocktail), a zester, peeler or knife work best. A zester will give you nice, consistent strips.  A peeler or knife enable you to remove large pieces of zest, which you can cut or chop to use as desired.

If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or shoot me an e-mail at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

THAI COCONUT CHICKEN

Total time: 20 minutes plus marinating and grilling time

Servings: 6

Note: Galangal (a large root similar to ginger) and Thai basil can be found at Asian markets.

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 to 3 Thai chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

3 tablespoons grated galangal or ginger

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup chopped Thai purple or regular basil

1/4 cup finely chopped green onions

1/4 cup finely chopped lemongrass (tough outer leaves removed)

Zest of 1 lime, finely grated

Juice of 4 limes

1 (13½-ounce) can coconut milk

1/4 cup toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 (4- to 6-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, chiles, garlic, galangal, cilantro, basil, green onions, lemongrass, lime zest and juice, coconut milk, sesame oil and fish sauce. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat.

2. Place the chicken and marinade in a large, sealable plastic bag. Squeeze out the air and seal the bag. Place the bag in the refrigerator and marinate the chicken overnight, up to 24 hours.

3. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill on an oiled rack over medium-high heat until the meat is firm and the juices run clear and a thermometer inserted reads 165 degrees. Place chicken on a platter and set aside for a few minutes before serving.

Each serving: 432 calories; 48 grams protein; 3 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 24 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 147 mg. cholesterol; 252 mg. sodium.

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