Seville oranges are small, bumpy and perfect for punch.
This is one of my favorite times of year. No, I’m not talking about the “holiday season” but rather the time when two exotic culinary treats come into season — Périgord truffles (which have become far too costly for me to actually buy) and Seville oranges.
Also known as bitter oranges, Seville oranges are small, have a bumpy skin and are only in season from mid-December until mid-February. Seville orange juice is sour, and more like the juice of a lemon than that of a navel orange. But what makes Seville oranges so special is their zest — it’s richly fragrant and loaded with essential oil — which for centuries has made them a “must-have” ingredient for orange cakes, marmalades and punches.
According to cocktail historian David Wondrich — whose 2010 book, “Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl” (Perigee), has spawned a “punch revolution” at cocktail bars across the country — Seville oranges are “the king of punch citrus.” In his book, Wondrich pieces together the Seville orange punch recipe of James Ashley, an 18th-century London publican whom Wondrich describes as “the world’s first celebrity mixologist.” When The Jewish Week recently asked Wondrich for a modern version of this punch, he replied, “It needs no modernization. It’s simple [to make] and incredibly tasty. ... It’s a perfected drink.”
Ashley’s punch was made by mixing an “orange sherbett” with either rum or brandy (Wondrich suggests making it with a mixture of the two) and water. So before the Seville orange season disappears for another year, make sure you try a tipple of Seville Orange Punch. You won’t regret it.
Seville Orange Punch
(Yields two quarts or 21 three-ounce servings)
4 Seville oranges
¾ cup of light raw sugar (such as Florida Crystals)
1 cup of “strong, funky” rum (Wondrich suggests Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum)
2 cups of cognac (Louis Royer VS Cognac, or Carmel 777 Brandy would be good kosher choices)
1 quart of chilled (or boiling) water
To make the sherbet:
Using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel the zest off of the oranges, being careful to avoid removing any of the white pith. Juice the oranges, reserve and refrigerate ¾ cup of juice. Put the zest, the peels and the sugar into a one-pint mason jar, shake well, store at room temperature overnight. In the morning you will find that the sugar has extracted the essential oil from the zest. Pour in the reserved juice, and shake well. This mixture is the sherbet, and if stored in a refrigerator, it can be made at least a week in advance.
To make the punch:
In a large bowl combine the sherbet, rum, cognac and water and mix well. To enjoy as a cold punch use chilled water and (optionally) add a small block of ice to the bowl. However, Seville Orange Punch also makes for a very tasty hot punch (which is how Wondrich suggests it was most likely served in Ashley’s establishment), in which case the water should be boiling before it is added. This punch is “cocktail strength” and should be served in small cups or glasses. If served hot, espresso demitasse cups are a particularly good choice.
Even when in season, Seville oranges can be hard to find, and you may have to ask your green grocer to special order them for you. In Manhattan, Wondrich suggests that they can generally be found at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange in the Chelsea Market, or purchased online from www.melissas.com. Many Latin food markets also stock them.