Alan Tangren: Don’t go retro with grapefruit
Dear Alan: I see grapefruit in the market all the time. Does it really have a season?
Grapefruit grow in only the warmest climates, needing extreme heat to produce deliciously flavorful fruit.
They were discovered by explorers in Jamaica and Barbados in the mid-1700s, probably the result of natural interbreeding of pumelos and oranges.
Depending on where they are grown, it may take nine to 14 months for a grapefruit to go from flower to ripe fruit.
The grapefruits we see in the store from October through June come from southern Texas or Florida.
Those from the deserts of southern California and Arizona ripen from January through November.
So there really is no time of the year you shouldn’t be able to find fresh grapefruit.
Back in the ‘50s, it was considered the height of elegance to offer half a grapefruit as an appetizer course, lightly sprinkled with sugar, heated under the broiler or not, but always served with a maraschino cherry stuck in the center.
And it was probably the most common variety — Marsh, with smooth yellow skin and tender, juicy, ivory-colored flesh.
Over the years, plant scientists have selected grapefruits with various degrees of pink or red flesh.
The most commonly available are two red varieties grown in Texas, marketed under a single trademark, Rio Star.
You may also find Ruby, a variety with paler pink flesh.
In general, I think all the pink and red varieties are superior in flavor to the so-called white varieties. They are certainly more attractive!
Red grapefruit are an easy way to bring color to your winter table, from breakfast to appetizer to dessert.
One of my favorite ways to serve them is in a salad, paired with their tropical neighbors, avocados.
We did just that for a recent Chef’s Table dinner at Tess’s Kitchen Store in Grass Valley.
Red Grapefruit, Avocado and Spring Onion Salad
2 large or 3 medium red grapefruit
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 handfuls of baby arugula
1/4 cup thin-sliced scallions or spring onion
2 ripe avocados, preferably Hass
Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, cut the top and bottom off each grapefruit to reveal the flesh.
Stand the fruit on end and cut away the peel from the sides, going just deep enough to reveal the flesh while keeping a spherical shape.
Go back over the fruit to make sure you have removed all the white pith.
Hold the fruit over a bowl and carefully cut along the membrane on either side of each segment, going toward the center of the fruit.
The segment will drop into the bowl when freed from its membrane.
Continue around the fruit, removing all the segments.
Squeeze the remains of the membrane over the bowl to extract any juice.
Measure out 2 tablespoons of juice from the bowl and mix with the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and whisk in the olive oil.
Wash the arugula and dry in a salad spinner.
Prepare the thin slices of onion and marinate in a small bowl with a spoonful of the dressing.
Cut the avocados in half; remove the pits and gently scoop out the flesh with a large spoon.
Cut the flesh lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and sprinkle with salt.
Toss the arugula with a tablespoon of the dressing.
Make a bed of the arugula on a serving platter and arrange avocado slices interspersed with grapefruit segments on it.
Spoon the rest of the dressing over the top and sprinkle on the marinated onion.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com.
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