As I listened to Matt Etchemendy, chef of Ichabod’s on Irving Place, describe how he makes his “dirty-wild” freekah, I couldn’t help but think what fun it would be to cook in his kitchen — to have tubs of juniper-infused salts to rub into duck breasts, pints of mirepoix ready to sauté with pre-cooked grains, and compotes of all kinds to serve alongside seared meats and stacks of buttermilk pancakes.
While I know that some parts of restaurant work — the hours, the stress, the demands — don’t translate well into cooking at home, the concept of mise en place need not exist in restaurants alone. There is nothing stopping me from setting aside a day to make salad dressings and stocks, to cook grains and beans, to make a few loaves of bread with the goal of bringing ease to the days that follow.
One day I’ll get there, but my conversation with Matt did inspire me to make his quick-candied kumquats, a condiment I’ve had on hand all winter. The method is simple: Just slice some kumquats, place them in a clean glass jar, and pour simple syrup over top. The kumquats are ready to be used as soon as the mixture cools, and they’ll keep in the fridge for months. When candied, they offer a bright, sweet counterpoint to simple roast chicken and pan-seared duck breasts — any poultry, really — instantly dressing them up and rendering sauce-making unnecessary.
And they’re a condiment that keeps on giving: When my stash gets low, I purée the remaining slices with a splash of their simple syrup to make a lovely spread for morning toast. While I haven’t gotten too creative with the leftover kumquat-infused simple syrup yet, the possibilities are endless: as a flavoring for cocktails and mocktails, as a soak for quick breads and cakes, or as a base for sorbets.
As you’ve likely gathered, my CSA is not the source of my kumquat overload — my local grocery stores have had California or Florida kumquats in stock since January. So while we in the Northeast could only hope to be overloaded with local citrus this time of year, many of our friends in sunnier parts likely are.
When I lived in California, in fact, I never knew what to do with my surplus of CSA kumquats. With the exception of one fairly successful kumquat upside-down cake, I had never found purpose for the pounds of kumquats I’d receive — I’d inevitably find them rotting through their brown paper bag in the bottom of my vegetable bin. Such a shame! If only I had known how to make these quick-candied kumquats.
Choosing and storing your kumquats:
Choose kumquats with smooth, shiny, and unblemished skins, and store them in a bag in the fridge. Use within a few days, as they spoil quickly.
Prepping your kumquats:
Kumquats have edible skins, which means they need not be peeled before using. Do wash them, though, and remove any stems that are still intact. If you’re slicing them, discard seeds as you work, and remember that a few small remaining seeds won’t do any harm.
Using your kumquats:
- Kumquats’ sweet-tart nature — with seeds naturally high in pectin — make them ideal for marmalades and ginger-and-cardamom scented jams.
- They can be used raw, too: Finely chopped and added to green or whole grain salads, kumquats offer the brightness of freshly grated zest. And when sliced and mixed with other winter citrus, they impart a lovely flavor to cocktails, mocktails, and punch.
- In braises — like this riff on chicken marbella — kumquats offer brightness and acidity.
- For a sweet breakfast, make orange-ricotta “pillows”: Simmer kumquats in Lillet, honey, agave nectar, cardamom seeds, and cinnamon, then pour the sauce over ricotta-stuffed crêpes.
- For an afternoon treat, make a gluten-free kumquat almond tea cake with almond flour and puréed simmered kumquats.
- Or for a late-winter dessert, fill an almond-shortbread crust with dark chocolate ganache, vanilla custard, and candied kumquats.
Makes 2 cups
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1 pint kumquats