Wednesday, February 6, 2013

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Making Vin d'Orange with the Last of the Seville Oranges

Now that winter has hit full stride, the citrus offerings could hardly be better. We’ve been making marmalades, lemon curds, desserts, and cocktails with the aromatic bounty. In the kitchen now, I’ve got 5 kilos of navel oranges, a box of Meyer lemons, a bowl of blood oranges, several dozens each of limes and Eureka lemons, a bowl of bergamots — and three Seville oranges.

Those last three bitter oranges may end up as the base for ice cream or a cake. Maybe syrup. Perhaps a tincture. Not entirely sure. I’ll have it figured out by dinner. The rest of them are soaking in wine.

Unlike relatively sweet Washington or Valencia oranges typical of American supermarkets, the rough-skinned Seville oranges are an older bitter/sour variety with limited availability in the US. Centuries ago, when members of the English and French aristocracies grew trees in their glass-enclosed orangeries, these were the fruits they grew. In Florida today, grocery stores and fruit stands may sell them as sour oranges or naranjas agrias — a core component of Cuban mojo, a ubiquitous (and delicious) marinade. In Spain, most of the bitter orange crop is exported to the UK where it is turned to classic orange marmalade. The dried peels of Caribbean harvests remain the building blocks of numerous famous orange liqueurs.

Lumpy-ass bitter oranges, freshly washed
But it is France, where bitter oranges are known as bigarades, that inspired me this weekend to convert a batch into a simple orange-infused aperitif called vin d’orange. The instructions below may seem proscriptive, but in truth, it’s a flexible recipe with room for adjustments. Do you prefer a drier result? Use less sugar and a drier wine. Like something more full-bodied? Try it with red wine rather than the rosé I used. If white wine is your thing, who’s to stop you from using white? Precedents exist for each. You could even ditch the bitter oranges entirely and make vin de pamplemousse with grapefruit.

By early summer, the wine will have taken on the ethereal taste of vanilla and bitter orange. Balanced with the sweetness of cane sugar, it will be just the thing for our pre-meal drinks outdoors. And, of course, if you want to play with it as an alternate to sweet vermouth or Lillet, you’d be on solid ground.
Vin d’Orange

8-10 Seville oranges (about 1 kilo or 2-2.5lbs) quartered lengthwise and sliced in smallish chunks — peel, pith, seeds, and all
2 entire lemons, sliced similarly
6 (750ml each for a total of 4.5 liters) bottles of cheap but decent rosé wine (see below)
1 liter vodka 80 proof/40% abv
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and cut into thirds
700g-1 kilo sugar (1.5-2.2 lbs)

If you have a container large enough to hold 2 gallons, put everything in it. If, like me, you use two smaller jugs, split the ingredients evenly between them.

I'll get to you when I return from Kentucky.
Put all the ingredients into one (or two) jars. Seal, shake. The sugar won't all dissolve at first. Patience; it will over time. Put the jars in a dark spot such as a cabinet, closet, or basement. Give it a shake or two every day for two weeks. Just to show it who's boss. Then every week or so do the same. So it doesn't forget.

After a rest of 30-60 days (I find better extraction at 60 days, but even an hour shows marked improvement on taste and some impatient souls simply can't wait two months), strain the mixture into a large clean bucket, carboy, fermentation tub or what have you. Cover it and let it settle a day, then line a funnel with several layers of cheesecloth and rack the heady wine into the clean bottles you saved, leaving any sediment behind in the bucket.

Done. Label it, date it, store it in a cool, dark place. One bottle should go into that cool, dark place known as the fridge.
Equipment note: You’ll need one or two large glass jars or stainless steel containers for the long infusion. Make sure they are airtight. I used 5-liter glass jugs with swing tops and gasket closures. When the time comes to bottle, you’ll also need clean glass wine bottles. My suggestion: wash and save the ones you emptied into the jugs.

Goes well with:


M Schuler said...

The batch I just threw together was 3lbs Seville oranges and 1lb Bergamot oranges. I'm steeping them in equal parts high proof rum (just Cruzan 151) and a white Rhone blend. I'm still looking for a Viognier to blend it down with, after steeping.

This is pretty much the procedure I followed last year, and it was very tasty.

Matthew Rowley said...

Nice Matt ~ playing in my head with the tastes and aromas of each. I like this approach. Care to share your recipe and method? As it happens, I've got a double handful of bergamot left over from our cocktail mixing. This sounds like something that would go down smoothly.

nancy baggett said...

Got to try this. Love orange liqueurs--seems like it would be remotely similar. Thanks.

Matthew Rowley said...

Hey ~ Good to see you around here again, Nancy. This stuff is great. It was with a great exertion of willpower that I didn't make a larger batch — though, on the 15th, I did make a slightly larger batch of a grapefruit version with a few Meyer lemons and a single bergamot thrown in. Drop by this summer; we'll be getting our swerve on in the back yard with bottles of this.