I love the zing of plain, unadulterated grapefruit for breakfast. But the juicy flesh and perfumed zest of this sweet-tart fruit add a real spark to all kinds of dishes, from salads and salsas to desserts.
Although you see it at grocery stores year-round, grapefruit tastes best (and is least expensive) at its peak, which is from early winter through spring. In the United States, grapefruit is grown in Florida and Texas (which provide the bulk of the winter crop), while California and Arizona produce most of the spring supply.
Picking the best
Grapefruit falls into two basic types, based on the color of the flesh: white and pink (which includes red). This flesh color is not an indication of sweetness, which is more attributed to the season—fruits picked early are sour, but the same variety will turn sweeter as the season progresses. Regardless of color, the varieties are all similar, with the main difference being the number (or lack) of seeds.
In the store, look for firm fruit that feels heavy for its size, with plump, glossy skin. Store it at room temperature for up to a week, or up to three weeks in the produce drawer of your refrigerator.
Grapefruit’s refreshing, tart flavor makes it a superb companion to fish; it’s also very good with chicken and pork. Spices that marry well with grapefruit include cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon; salt intensifies its sweetness. Fresh ginger and herbs such as mint, basil, tarragon, and rosemary are also good pairings. A surprisingly pleasant marriage comes with chile peppers, both hot and mild.
Grapefruit zest is bitterer than other citrus skin, so you may want to blanch it several times to tame the harshness before adding it to your recipe. And beware of the pith, which is intensely bitter (it’s used to flavor tonic water). A twist of grapefruit zest makes a nice change from lemon or lime in drinks where a little bitterness is welcome.
Savory and sweet ideas for grapefruit
- Grapefruit, cabbage, and avocado salad
For a perfect side dish with Mexican food or sweet-hot Asian barbecue, toss finely shredded cabbage with kosher salt, a little grapefruit juice, and thinly sliced jalapeno. Let sit about 30 minutes, until the cabbage is slightly wilted, and then top with grapefruit segments and avocado slices that have been drizzled with olive oil.
- Sauce for fish
For a mild fish, add a little blanched grapefruit zest (see blanching directions under Candied Grapefruit Peel, below) and a spoonful or two of juice to a beurre blanc. For an oily fish such as salmon, tuna, swordfish, or mackerel, try a punchier pan sauce of sauteed minced ginger and garlic, blanched grapefruit zest, and thinly sliced scallion, with soy sauce and grapefruit juice.
- Tropical salsa
Stir together grapefruit sections, avocado, mango, chile peppers, lime and grapefruit juice, olive oil, and lots of chopped herbs (basil, cilantro, or mint). Use with fish, chicken, or simply for scooping up with bread or chips.
- Winter citrus compote
Make a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) infused with vanilla bean, lemon zest, and a little grapefruit zest. Poach whole kumquats in this syrup just until tender; then pour over grapefruit and orange segments (include some blood oranges if you can) and let steep until time to serve. Serve with a dollop of softly whipped cream or mascarpone and garnish with chopped candied grapefruit peel.
- Salted grapefruit granita
Stir together 3 cups of fresh grapefruit juice, the juice of half a lemon, and a generous pinch of sea salt. Add a simple syrup made from 3/4 cup each of sugar and water, and 2 Tbs. finely minced unblanched grapefruit zest. Freeze in a shallow container, stirring every 30 minutes or so to separate the ice crystals.
- Candied grapefruit peel
Remove the peel in large sections from organic grapefruits. Trim away as much of the pith as you can. Blanch 5 times in simmering water (10 minutes at a time) and then scrape away any remaining pith. Cut the zest into strips, simmer in 2 parts sugar to 1 part water for about 45 minutes; let cool. Remove from the syrup, arrange on a lined baking sheet, and let dry overnight. The next day roll the strips in sugar and store in an airtight container. Use as a garnish for iced tea, lemonade, or cocktails, or chop and add to cake batter, fillings, frostings, salad dressing, pan sauces, braises, or stews.