Creative Food Play: Adventures With Buddha’s Hand
By LIZ HAGER
Over the weekend, while in the process of hunting and gathering in the gargantuan fruit section of my favorite market, I had noticed a middle-aged woman lingering in the vicinity of my shopping cart. As I returned to the cart and attempted to reach for its bar, thinking it was somehow blocking her way, she accosted me. “What do you do with THAT?” she asked, pointing to the yellow, squid-like fruit whose tentacles were peeking up among the bags of pears and apples. I saw no reason to lie. “I have no idea,” I grinned. “I’m using it for a photo project.”
Fortunately my traveling companion for the day was Tia, who is an expert on all sorts of food. Turns out, this thing—this Buddha’s Hand, aka citron, cedra, Citrus medica var.sarcodactylus—is an ancient relative of the lemon. It has the rind of a lemon but not the pulp. It’s used in Asian cultures to freshen rooms. In the Western world, outside of a few daring chefs, who use it raw, it’s mostly used for making candied fruit. Those little cubes of succade in fruit cakes? Some of them originated from the rind of this strange-looking life form.
Armed with that knowledge, I put the Buddha’s Hand out of my mind as a reliable food source.
A day later, however, my penurious nature got the better of me. How wasteful to throw out the carcass after the photo shoot! Nature had designed something more beautiful than any human could have invented—a fruit with gorgeously gnarled fingers. Think of the presentation possibilities. The ooo-ahh factor spurred me on.
I consulted Tia. She attempted to instruct me on the details of preparing candied citron by phone. She went over the instructions a second time, making a few modifications. I should have taken notes. I’m not a novice in the kitchen, but I absorb new concepts best visually through interactive watching. I hung up the phone, a bit fuzzy about the numerous and seemingly-complicated steps that would allow me to candy the fruit properly, while leaving the fingers whole. They are fairly thick, was our method going to cook them all the way through?
I consulted the internet. The scant recipes out there are all slightly different and none of them mention a way to do it so the fingers stay whole.
This afternoon I decided just not to worry about the whole thing. I cut into the fruit, running my knife along the grove that separates each finger. I carved out some of their pulp, but left the fingers whole.
They’re in their third boiling bath. Stay tuned for results.