Bitter seville oranges are only in season for January and February yet their brevity has done nothing to diminish our love for these bright beauties. They were hugely popular in Britain for a good while before burgeoning trade links with the east brought their sweeter cousins over in the early 17th century. It is interesting to note that many of our traditional dishes which call for oranges probably originated not with sweet ones but with the sevilles.
I like to take advantage of how they cut through the intensity of red meats by adding a strip of their zest to beef or venison casseroles. Elizabeth David has a lovely recipe for partidge that’s pot-roasted with sliced Seville oranges, white wine and garlic. I almost – almost – hesitate to mention Duck a l’Orange. Does it still suffer from being a 1960s joke? Maybe. Maybe the laugh is on us for consigning it for so long to the ‘deary me, no’ recipe list. If you try this bigarade sauce (bigarade being the french name for Seville oranges) with some duck breasts you’ll see what I mean.
Bigarade Sauce – for two servings
1. Pare the zest of two seville oranges as thinly as you can and cut into super-thin strips. Give them a few minutes in rapidly boiling water, drain, and then leave to cool.
2. Heat 1.5tbsps granulated sugar and 1tbsp vinegar (sherry, red wine or balsamic) in a saucepan until it goes a light caramel colour. Pour in 200ml duck, chicken or veal stock and let it simmer for 5 minutes to reduce. Add the juice from the two oranges and the boiled zest strips. Reduce a little more if you feel it needs it and then finish by whisking in a knob of butter for added shine.
Seville oranges are probably most commonly used now for marmalade-making. To the extent that the ones I got recently from Waitrose were labelled as ‘Marmalade Oranges’ and I had to search on the box to see the bit that pinned them down as being sevilles. Mine were not headed for marmalade but are being made into orange bitters for use in cocktails and cooking. Old, classic martini recipes tend to have a few dashes of orange bitters added and that’s something I’ve taken to with relish.
If the pear bitters I made before Christmas are anything to go by they should have a deep, complex flavour from three weeks of steeping the seville orange zest in high-proof vodka with cardamom, cloves, gentian root, coriander seed and allspice. (The recipe is one from Brad Parson’s lovely ‘Bitters‘ book – I highly recommend it for any drinks enthusiasts.)
(A version of this article has appeared in my ‘Culinary Calendar‘ column for The Arbuturian magazine.)