Citrus season will outlast the holidays by about two months. Long after the holiday dust settles and the reality of a winter siege sets in, we will still have plenty of time left on our hands to appreciate those tangy spheroids in all of their diverse glory.
But there are many moods and phases to this rollout, thanks to the thousands of different citrus varieties growing within our borders. For some types of citrus, like, say, the oroblanco, the season is early, short and worth catching for citrus nerds like me.
A cross between a white grapefruit and a pomelo, the oroblanco's name is Spanish for "white gold," and its flesh is all sweet and not bitter. Oroblancos are prized by makers of the Vietnamese salad goi buoi, according to Andrea Nguyen, cookbook author and authority on Vietnamese cuisine.
Nguyen recently posted a recipe on her blog (vietworldkitchen.com) that resonates with the buzz her family creates during oroblanco season in California. It's a salad of cabbage, carrot, shrimp and chicken tossed with individual oroblanco sections, or vesicles. A search for "goi buoi" on the blog links to a slightly different version that employs the relatively abundant pomelo, which is a tad harder to de-membrane into naked sections, but still far easier than most citrus. The vesicles of oranges cling tenaciously to their bitter membranes, and cutting those vesicles, Nguyen told me, would release too much juice.
Nguyen recommends local shrimp, which depend on healthy marine ecosystems and aren't associated with environmental or human rights abuses. And she likes her shrimp as intact and well-preserved as possible.
This recipe puts all of the principle flavors of food into play, including saltiness from the fish sauce, sourness from the lime juice, bitterness and sweetness from the grapefruit and umami from the shrimp and fish sauce, not to mention heat from the chile. This salad had me wincing, sweating and smiling all at once.
Goi Buoi Salad
1 pound domestic shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 oroblancos, pomelos or grapefruits, peeled and de-membraned but left in as large chunks as possible
2 medium carrots, shredded
1/2 pound cabbage, shredded
fresh cilantro and mint, chopped
1/2 c. coconut flakes
1/4 c. crushed peanuts
(optional garnish: fried shallots)
4 tbsp. fish sauce
4 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. sugar
fresh hot red chili to taste, minced
a clove of garlic, pressed or minced
squirt of Sriracha or similar garlic chile sauce
Cook the shrimp in salted water; leave whole or cut into large chunks. Toss with the herbs and veggies. Combine the sauce ingredients and stir until the sugar dissolves. Dress the salad and toss, adding salt to taste. Finally, toss in the grapefruit or pomelo chunks, sprinkle with chopped peanuts and serve.
Vegetarians can substitute tofu for the shrimp without issue, but without the fish sauce the flavor would lose something important.