Zesty means fresh, invigorating, or stimulating. In cooking, one way to brighten food is to put actual citrus zest into your ricotta filling or chicken marinade. With that in mind, oranges, lemons, limes, and even grapefruits offer two distinct ways to flavor your food. There’s the juice, which we use all the time in salad dressings or to finish off fish dishes with a hit of acid. Then there’s the zest, which packs tons of citrus flavor with less sharpness.
Restaurants use zest as an essential ingredient to perk up flavors in everyday dishes, and we’ve brought that professional technique to you a few of our recipes, like Eggplant Rollatini and Orange Chicken Thighs with Cherry Salsa.
You, too, can increase the zing of any dish that calls for fresh lemon or orange juice without adding an extra ingredient to your shopping list, simply by repurposing the peel from either fruit. Here’s what to do:
If you own a sturdy cheese grater, you should have good luck using the smallest setting to peel the thick outer skin of the lemon or other citrus. Don’t press too hard against the grater, since you want to avoid getting the underlying white pith into your bowl of zest. (The pith can be a tad bitter.)
For those of you who absolutely love zesting, you may want to pick up a Microplane, which is a tool specifically engineered to remove the zest from lemons or oranges in beautiful long strands. You won’t have to worry about catching any of the zest. (Microplanes are also unbeatable for crushing ginger root or garlic.)
Last, if you have a vegetable peeler or paring knife, you can still get zesty! Use the knife to remove the outer lemon peel, trying not to pick up any of the white zest in the process. Then pick up your chef’s knife and finely mince the peel to make zest. Add to your chicken, cherry salsa, ricotta filling, or anything else that needs a zingy kick!