Monday, December 10, 2012

Fernando's Whole Orange Marmalade

Axel F and I went to Mexico City for a few days last month, and it was such a great trip in so many ways, too numerous to go into here.  The food of course was particularly thrilling (Tacos al pastor! Horchata!  Mole!), and one thing I ate I instantly resolved to make when we got home - a whole orange marmalade that our host Fernando, at the Hostal del Maria Alma in Coyoacan, had made himself and served at breakfast (along with eggs, toast, guava, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, rich coffee, and very interesting conversation).

I've never had marmalade anything like it - all other marmalades I've had have been sticky, overly sweet but also unpleasantly bitter, with hard bits of orange peel floating in a whole lot of sort of clear sugary stuff.  Fernando's marmalade was juicy, tender, and very orangey, with a bitter and sweet flavor I just loved... Fernando's marmalade is to regular marmalade as homemade strawberry preserves are to strawberry jelly - a real fruit experience, as opposed to fruit flavored candy.  I just wanted to keep loading it onto toast forever.  I asked him what he did to make it so incredibly, addictively delicious.  He said he used agave nectar instead of sugar (which explained why it was juicy and fruity rather than candied), and just cut up whole oranges (commercial marmalades seem to use only the peels, and not the flesh of the orange itself), and cooked it for four hours.  He also spiced it with cinnamon stick and star anise - which is a really... (if I may say) magical flavor with citrus.

Armed with this description, I gave it a try yesterday - and I think I nailed it!  This yielded quite a lot of marmalade, about 1 1/2 quarts.  It is dreamily delicious just spooned on buttered toast, but I'm thinking it would be incredible stuffed into croissants, baked into a tart or thumbprint sugar cookies, or even as an accompaniment or glaze for roasted meats.

Whole Orange Marmalade from Hostal Maria Alma

3 lbs. organic oranges (about 14 medium small oranges.  Fernando said he used Valencia, I used Florida oranges)
2 1/2 cups agave nectar (divided)
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick (mexican canela, if you can get it!)
2 star anise
5-8 whole green cardamom pods

Be sure to wash your oranges thoroughly.  And definitely use organic oranges - it is really necessary for this, since you're cooking and eating the whole thing.  The beauty is that they don't have to be those gorgeous, enormous orange monstrosities that cost an arm and a leg.

To prep the oranges, trim off both ends, and slice in half lengthwise down the middle.  Next time I will cut in half again lengthwise (in other words, cut the oranges into 4 lengthwise wedges instead of just in half) before cutting them into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Remove and discard any seeds as you go.

Very quickly I discovered that a serrated knife and a plastic cutting board to catch the juices were a much better plan and saved me many levels of aggravation.

This is all those oranges (the $5 bag I found at Whole Foods was about 14 small) sliced up.

Cinnamon stick, star anise (don't skip it!), cardamom pods (optional).

 2 cups of agave nectar goes into the pot with the sliced oranges and spices, along with a cup of water.  Bring it all to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally.  When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to very low (though it should be bubbling gently in a couple of places) and cover.  Come back to stir now and then, for about 2 hours.

 After one hour.

After two hours.  At this point, I tasted it, and I felt it needed to be slightly sweeter, so I added another 1/2 cup of agave nectar.  Do this to taste - I think it will always depend on the sweetness of the particular oranges you get.  I was looking for a balance between bitter and sweet and slightly tart.

After three hours.  At this point, the flavor was great, but it was still pretty liquid.  So I removed the lid and upped the heat till it was bubbling a bit more quickly, and let it go one more hour uncovered, stirring often.  This was when I decided next time I'll quarter the oranges before slicing, because as they cooked the strips of peel seemed to get longer and longer, and I spent some time cutting as many in half with my wooden spoon as possible - not a hard task, because they were very tender, but the problem is easily solved with better planning!

After that fourth hour at a slightly higher temp, the marmalade had thickened up nicely, still juicy and lovely, but not runny.

I'm excited to give some as gifts, and have a lot for myself too.  Thank you, Fernando!

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