Sectioning Citrus

Get perfect, pithless results in minutes

Even if I’m happy to peel an orange and eat it out of the hand with each section in its membrane, I find the membrane to be distracting in a fruit salad. As for a grapefruit, if I’m eating it by its lonesome, I don’t peel it out of hand; I cut it in half and section it with a spoon. My friend Tom used to peel grapefruits and eat them, but even he didn’t eat the tough membrane of that fruit. Instead, he’d bite it open and pull it aside with his teeth and then gnaw out the flavorful juice cells: a messy project that left his hands dripping with sticky juice. There’s no need to go through that trouble (and if you’re making a fruit salad that I might eat, please don’t do it that way). Instead, pull out your chef’s knife and follow these steps toward perfect citrus sections.

1) Cut off both ends. This will give you a stable surface to work with and also expose the pith line.

the pith line as marked by the knife tip

Pith is that bitter white stuff that lines the inside of the peel.You want to cut away both it and the exterior membrane wall to expose the juice pockets.

2) With the citrus on one of its newly flat ends, carefully cut the arc that removes all of the white stuff and reveals the good stuff inside.

Trim away the pith and the peel to expose the good stuff

If you don’t cut enough away and there’s still some pith showing, just follow the arc again and remove the rest of it. If you cut too deeply and hack away a good portion of the fruit, there’s not really anything you can do to rectify it; just cut a bit less off on your next pass.

3) Repeat the process around the whole fruit until all of the peel has been removed. Note how the sections are demarcated by lines of membrane. What you want to do is to remove the sections from the membrane. Carefully cut down toward the center of the fruit on one side of one membrane.

Carefully cut down one side of one membrane

4) Then, finish removing that section from the fruit by cutting down next to its other membrane. Your two cuts should meet, thereby freeing the section from the bonds that hold it.

Cut the section free from its other membrane

5) Repeat the process for the entire fruit until all sections have been removed.

repeat for entire fruit

6) Take advantage of the juice that’s left behind in the membrane. With a clean hand, squeeze the juice over the fruit salad or into a glass as a special treat for the cook.

Juice the membranes with a clean hand
This method works on any citrus fruit, be it an orange, tangerine, grapefruit, clementine, or other. When you’re cutting one of the seeded varieties, though, keep an eye out for the seeds and trim them from the sections before you add them to the salad bowl.

6 Responses to “Sectioning Citrus”

  1. Corduroy Orange » Blog Archive » Peeling a Kiwi Says:

    [...] Sometimes the key to having great knife skills is knowing when to use a different tool.  For instance, if you want to peel a kiwi (perhaps to add it to the fruit salad we started yesterday with Sectioning Citrus), you’ll only need your knife very briefly, to cut off each end of the fruit and cut the fruit in half.  Then, reach for an ordinary spoon and use it to separate the fruit from the peel. [...]

  2. Corduroy Orange » Blog Archive » I’m Going Bananas! Says:

    [...] Then, you’re ready to make a banana split; or, slice it crosswise and combine it with citrus and kiwi for a tasty fruit salad. [...]

  3. knife guy Says:

    What type of Chef’s knife do you recommend?

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