From N., 7 January 2010, Buddha’s hand – what is it?
Q: I was in Whole Foods and saw this crazy looking gnarled yellow citrus fruit with all these fingers. Do you know what to do with it?
A: Thanks for your question. The crazy looking Buddha’s hand is a variety of citron, one of the four original types of citrus fruit. Today, the typical American or Western European grocery stocks lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines and blood oranges in season. Of these varieties, however, only the lime and tangerine represent original citrus varieties.
The four original citrus fruits – limes, mandarins (tangerines), pomelos, and citron – were hybridized, or crossed with each other, and with intermediate hybrids, to produce the familiar fruits we know today. For example, the lemon (the most common of which is the Eureka lemon) is a cross between citron and lime; the Meyer lemon is a cross between the lemon and the mandarin. The orange, another ancient hybrid, is a likely cross between the pomelo and the mandarin. The grapefruit is a cross between the pomelo and the sweet orange (again, itself a hybrid). Most of the hybridization likely took place naturally and was propagated through cultivation.
The Buddha’s hand citron, also known by its likely name “fingered citron,” or its Japanese name, bushukan, is all white pith on the inside and fragrant zest on the outside. Unlike most citrus fruits, which are filled with juicy pulp vesicles, the Buddha’s hand lacks juice and pulp, and often lacks seeds. What is the citron’s culinary value, if it cannot be juiced?
Use the Buddha’s hand for its fragrant zest, which is similar to lemon, but more perfume-y and intense. As with all citrus fruits, you should avoid the white pith for most purposes (more on that in a second, though). If you are skilled with a paring knife, or own a cocktail zester, you can remove the zest in long strips, which are great curled in the bottom of a martini glass, or stored in white wine vinegar for future use in sauces and vinaigrettes. If you like, preserve the zest in vodka or gin for an alternative to commercial citrus vodkas, or grind together with granulated sugar for an ultra-citrusy finish to lemon desserts (store this in the refrigerator).
If you are feeling ambitious, you can candy the citron. Remember the disgusting fruitcakes of our youth, with the electric green and maraschino red candied fruit? More often than not, the green diced fruit was low-grade candied citron with artificial coloring. Buddha’s hand, however, makes unbelievable candied fruit which you will not be able to stop eating. Because the white pith is not as bitter as with most citrus fruits, you do not need to remove it and would be hard pressed to do so, since the fruit is nearly all pith. As with many processes, remember that you actually get two products – the candied citron and a citron-infused syrup. Don’t discard the syrup. Keep it in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator (or freeze some of it, since it doesn’t keep forever). Use the syrup to flavor drinks, especially fizzy drinks in summer.
Candied Buddha’s hand
Conventionally, when making candied citrus peel for candy, one generally blanches the peel several times in boiling water (sometimes slightly salted water), to remove most of the bitterness. A little bitterness is desirable in the finished candy, because it contains so much sugar, but as most citrus peel is unpleasantly bitter, an initial blanch is essential. Buddha’s hand is not as bitter as most citrus, though, and I have dispensed with the initial blanch. If you like, you may blanch the peel before cooking it in the sugar syrup. To do so, boil it in a 1% solution of salt water (in other words, 10g salt per liter of water) for about fifteen minutes and drain; repeat once. Again, I find this step unnecessary.
One Buddha’s hand citron, washed well
2c granulated sugar
optional: 1 c superfine (caster) sugar, for rolling
Dice the citron, taking care to use only the portions that include the zest. Do not dice the interior pith portion.
Place the diced citron in a saucepot with the water and granulated sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Bring to 230F/110C, the soft thread stage. Do not allow the temperature to exceed this stage or you will not be able to separate the candy and it will become brittle. Turn off the heat and rest the citron in the syrup for 30 minutes or so.
Drain the citron through a sieve, retaining the syrup for another use (refrigerate or freeze). Spread the citron on a silpat or acetate lined sheet pan, scattering to separate the citron if possible. Allow to dry completely. Placing in a 90F oven with a convection fan will speed the process.
Sprinkle or roll the dry citron in superfine (caster) sugar.