In the dark days of January one little genus of fruit provides the necessary sunshine and vitamin C to withstand the gloom. Over here it is National Citrus week, and not coincidentally this is the time of the year you can buy bitter oranges (also known as Seville oranges). One of the few true seasonal products, once you see them it's time to snap up a pound or so and make some fantastic marmalade.
The humble bitter orange is smaller than your regular sweet orange. It looks a bit like a less smooth tangerine. Inside though are a lot of pips and some very intense sour flesh. It is the combination of it's tangy juices with the mellowed bitter of the rind that make marmalade such a potent flavour. It belongs in the love it or hate it category of foods. I never cared for it myself until I got a little flavour obsession with San Pellegrino aranciata, the more grown up, sophisticated brother of Fanta. Now I crave all sort of different citrus tones, from the stunning Japanese yuzu to indeed the revitalizing bitter sweetness of a proper marmalade. This recipe uses just the bitter oranges, sugar, and water, so no need for any other gelling agent at all. It does however take some extra time so start boiling the oranges the night before.
Makes two jars.
- 500 g bitter oranges
- 1 kg sugar
- 2 l water
Instead of removing the peel first I like the method of boiling the oranges whole. Just put them in a pan with the water and bring to a simmer. Oranges float so regularly bob them under. It takes about 90 minutes for the peel to soften. After the 90 minutes cover the pan and let the oranges sit overnight.
The oranges are now buttery soft and easy to handle. Remove them from the pan, but keep the liquid. Halve the oranges and use a spoon to scoop out the insides. Give them a good scrape to remove the pith.
Put the insides back into the water and bring up the heat to a gentle simmer again. It is in these insides and especially the pitps that most of the pectin is located. The pectin is what makes the marmalade set so you want to get as much of the pectin out of the oranges and into the liquid. Let the water and the innards simmer for about 30 minutes while you cut the peel.
You can easily press down the peel so it is easier to cut. Cut it however finely you desire. Meanwhile you can help draw more pectin from the flesh by taking one of those potato stampers and really agitate and slightly crush the inner orange bits. Once they have boiled for half an hour or so, let it cool down in the pan. You can easily walk away from it for a couple of hours.
Once it has steeped some more it is time to put it through a fine sieve. You need some elbow grease to get all the liquid out but keep going. You need every gloop of fluid for the marmalade. Only stop once the mixture in the sieve is almost dry.
Now it is finally time to properly start the marmalade. Return the now pectin rich liquid back to the pan and add the sugar and the chopped peel. Bring to a gentle boil. I repeat gentle, I had it boil over on me several times. Scoop up any scum that rises to the surface. Now all that is required is a little bit of patience and a thermometer. As water evaporates the concentration of sugar gets higher, and this will allow the temperature to get higher too. The sweet spot for marmalade is 104 degrees Celsius. You'll notice the marmalade will stay at 100 c for quite a while, but be patient it will eventually go up. Once it hits 104 remove from the fire.
To test the set you can drop a spoon of the marmalade on a cold saucer and drag your finger through it. If it forms those wrinkles you see above and leaves a clear stripe, your marmalade will be set perfectly. Pour into sterilized jars and you are done.