Off the Beaten Aisle: Kumquats

By: J.M. Hirsch
kumquat and red onion salsa haddock

There’s really no way around it: Kumquats are an odd little fruit.

Visually, they resemble diminutive oranges, but they technically aren’t citrus. And unlike oranges, it's the thin skin that is sweet, while the flesh is sour.

You probably won’t find bushels of them at the grocer, but most stores will have a few pints (they usually are sold in the same containers as cherry tomatoes) tucked away among the “strange” produce offerings.

And they are worth looking for. Here’s why:

In a tiny (about the size of a large olive), bright orange package, kumquats pack a puckeringly intense sweet-tart flavor that complements both sweet and savory dishes. They also make a mean cocktail.

Kumquats, which originated in China, are eaten whole -– skin and all. The seeds can be chomped, too. But that’s a matter of taste.

I prefer to slice the kumquats in half and use the tip of the knife to pop out the seeds (it’s easy). The halves are amazing drizzled or dunked in a bit of honey.

Don’t bother juicing them because the sweetness resides in the skin; you’ll be disappointed if you try. It's better to halve and seed one, then blend it into your smoothie.

In general, the intensity of these flavor bombs means a little goes a long way.

Kumquats should be firm, but tender. They can be stored at room temperature for several days (their flavor is best at this temperature), or refrigerated for two to three weeks.

If you try kumquats fresh and find the skin is too tough, dunk them in boiling water for about 20 seconds, then place them in ice water to cool.

Oh, and the funny name? It comes from the Cantonese kin ku, which means “golden orange.”

  • For a breathtaking cocktail, dump a pint of kumquats in a blender. Add a bottle of vodka, then blend briefly to chop. Refrigerate for a day, then drain, squeezing the pulp to extract any liquid. Discard the pulp and serve the now bright-orange vodka chilled in small glasses for sipping.
  • Seed and chop two or three kumquats and add to beef stew. The flavor cuts through the heavy stew in a wonderful way.
  • Seed and chop enough kumquats to get about a cup. Combine with ¼ cup of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Heat briefly, then cool. Stir into 1 pint of softened vanilla ice cream, then refreeze. Eat!
  • Use halved kumquats instead of lemons to fill the cavity of a chicken during roasting. And be sure to use drippings to man a pan sauce or gravy.
  • Seed and dice several kumquats and add to a fruit salad of watermelon, strawberries and bananas.
  • Add several seeded and diced kumquats to your favorite pancake recipe. Be sure to top with butter and maple syrup.
  • Thread a couple kumquats onto skewers, alternating with vinaigrette-marinated steak tips. Grill as normal.
  • Making sweet-and-sour chicken? Add a few seeded and diced kumquats.
  • Create a zippy mayonnaise for fried fish by blending purchased mayonnaise and 1 seeded kumquat in the processor until mostly smooth.
Kumquat and Red Onion Salsa on Baked Haddock
Start to finish: 25 minutes
Servings: 4
2 eggs
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1¼ pounds haddock fillets, divided into 4 pieces
1 medium red onion, quartered
½ jalapeno pepper (with seeds if you like it hot)
2 cloves garlic
½ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
1 pint kumquats, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a wide, shallow bowl or pie pan, whisk the eggs and flour. In a second similar bowl or pan, mix the breadcrumbs and salt.

One piece at a time, dip the haddock in the egg blend, turning to coat all sides, then dredge through the breadcrumbs, patting them to cover evenly.

Arrange the haddock on the prepared baking sheet. Spritz the tops of the fish with cooking spray. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until the fish flakes easily.

Meanwhile, in a food processor combine the onion, jalapeno and garlic. Process until chopped. Add the cilantro and kumquats, then pulse to chop.

Transfer the kumquat mixture to a medium bowl. Stir in the olive oil, honey and lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper.

Serve the haddock topped with the salsa.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 410 calories; 70 calories from fat (18 percent of total calories); 8 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 190 mg cholesterol; 50 g carbohydrate; 35 g protein; 9 g fiber; 720 mg sodium.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is author of the recent cookbook, High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking . He also blogs at jmhirsch.

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