If you find fresh citrus at an unbelievable price and want to take advantage of it, or a friend hands you a box piled with home-grown lemons, it’s a shame to pass up the opportunity. It’s a greater shame to let half the fruit go moldy because you ran out of ideas for using fresh citrus. Freeze it for later, whole, juiced or zested.
Be sure to use bags and containers that are meant for freezer use. Other types of containers aren’t air tight and the contents will dry out or get freezer burn. It’s a waste of time, money and freezer space to use poor packaging.
What to do with fresh or frozen citrus zest is a mystery to some people. I put a teaspoon of lemon or orange zest in blueberry or poppyseed muffin mix, add some to canned lemonade to make it taste more like home-made, and add it to sangria or white wine spritzers. Add zest to a mix of honey and soy sauce to make trendy “oriental citrus glaze” for your chicken.
Frozen fruit looks and tastes good, but it doesn’t have the same texture as fresh. Freeze slices or wedges with the peel still on them to drop into summer drinks for decoration – this takes less freezer space than freezing them into ice cubes. If you need citrus fruit to puree for a sauce or sorbet, use a frozen one.Use the more expensive fresh fruit to serve on the side.
Freezing whole fruit is the easiest way to preserve it for later juice and zest, but it takes the most freezer space. Wash the outside of the fruit with warm soapy water, rinse, and dry it. Wrap each fruit individually in plastic freezer wrap and then put the fruit into a storage bag or large container. To use one of the fruits for zest, unwrap it and grate the zest from the frozen fruit. Re-wrap the fruit and put it back in the freezer. When you need juice, find and defrost a fruit that has already been used for zest.
Freeze zest separately the easy way by peeling the citrus fruit with a vegetable peeler and freezing the strips of citrus peel in a small freezer bag. When you need zest, remove a strip or two and dice it finely with a knife or use a small food chopper. Freezing the peel in large pieces preserves the aromatic oils better than freezing fine shreds and particles.
Freeze citrus juice in the quantities you use the most. I free ice cube trays of juice and store the cubes in freezer bags for recipes that need a spoonful of juice, such as lemon butter or mayonnaise. I also freeze juice in muffin tins that hold 1/2 cup of juice for recipes like Greek Lemon Soup or Lemon Chicken. After the juice is frozen, put the chunks into freezer containers for long-term storage.
Frozen whole citrus, juice, or zest lasts about a year in my upright freezer. I make sure to use it all by mid-January, then restock for free when co-workers are harvesting from their trees.