Last weekend at our farmers’ market, I spied oranges with stunningly deep orange skin and knew they were destined to be made into candied orange peels. The peels are an old-fashioned treat that taste like magnificent jellied candy because the essence of orange is naturally there in the candied orange peels. Coated with sugar for a delicate crunch, the peels are soft yet chewy with a slight citrus bite.
Great to nibble with tea or coffee, these are one of my favorite sweets to make at Christmas time and well into Tet. They’re good alone and can be paired with cookies or other candies, too. I wrote this recipe years ago and included it in my first book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, published in 2006.Candied orange peels (mứt vỏ cam) are not a traditional Vietnamese sweetmeat. But here in California, when navel oranges are in season, their peels are incredibly fragrant and beautiful. Why peel and orange and waste the peel? Viet cooks candy many fruits and seeds, such as kumquats, coconut, and lotus seeds.
You can peel the oranges all at once, but I ate an orange per day, removing the peel in sections and refrigerating them in in airtight container. My oranges were fresh from the field so I scrubbed them extra to get rid of the dirt. If you buy oranges with wax, scrub them with a vegetable brush until you get a whiff of citrusy goodness.
Once there was enough, I made the candied orange peel. The active cooking time is about 1 hour, most of which you’re waiting for the pot to come to a boil (that quick initial cooking rids the peels of bitterness). Soaking the peels overnight does some of that too.
Then you’re just lazily stirring the pan once in a while to make sure the peels absorb the sugar syrup evenly. Make sure to use a wide pan so the peels may sit in one layer. This is a sauteuse, chicken-fryer kind of pan. The lower pan allows you to easily stir and turn ingredients.
I hadn’t made candied orange peels in a few years so my simmering was too low and slow. Some of the peels remained a bit wet despite my letting them sit on the rack for 24 hours after coating in sugar. They tasted just fine. If you don’t mind the wet texture – it’s soft and juicy seeming, then just forget what you just read. If you want them dry, simmer for the 30 minutes.
After simmering in the sugar syrup, let the glazed peels dry and get tacky before coating them in sugar. Then you’re done with the edible little jewels.
Orange peel is Nature’s free gift so make the most of it. If you don’t get to making these for Christmas, keep them in mind for Tet/Lunar New Year, which falls on February 5, 2019 – the day when Vietnamese Food Any Day releases!
Related Post: Candied Grapefruit and Pomelo Peel Recipe
Candied Orange Peel
- 6 small or 5 medium blemish-free thick-skinned oranges, preferably California navels
- 1 2/3 cups plus about 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
- Use a small, sharp knife to trim 1/4 to 1/2 inch from both ends of each orange. Reveal some flesh to make removing the peel easier. Then make cuts, from top to bottom and at 1-inch intervals, around each orange. Make sure the knife goes through the peel and pith down to the flesh. Use your fingers to remove the peel from the orange in beautiful, discreet sections. Cut the each section lengthwise into 1/3-inch-wide strips.
- Put the peels into a saucepan and add enough water so that they float. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- Uncover and drain the peels. Return them to the saucepan and again add enough water so the peels float. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then drain. This mellows the harsh flavor of the peels.
- To candy the peels, use a wide, high-sided skillet (like a chicken fryer) that can accommodate them in a single layer. Put a wire rack on a baking sheet and place the baking sheet nearby for drying the finished strips. Put the 1 2/3 cups sugar and all the water into the skillet. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the peels, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they look glazed and shiny. Occasionally stir the peels or swirl the pan to ensure even cooking, and lower the heat as needed to prevent scorching. During candying, the plump peels will shrink, straighten out, and soften. The white pith will turn golden and somewhat translucent. Use tongs to transfer each strip to the rack, placing them orange side up and not touching. Discard the sugar syrup or save for another purpose (add soda water for a spritzer, for example). Allow the peels to dry for about 1 hour, or until they feel tacky.
- To coat the peels, put the 1/4 cup sugar into a small bowl. Drop in a few strips at a time and shake the bowl back and forth to coat them well. Transfer to a plate and then repeat with the remaining peels. (If you run out of sugar, add more to the bowl.) When all the strips are coated, put them into an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 7 days.