Cheap Eats:
Peixe com Môlho de Tangerina
  (Fish in Tangerine Sauce)

You might be interested to know that oranges are classified as berries. Large berries. If you peel an orange, you can break it into sections, which are called carpals. The white stuff under the skin is called albedo, and the little, clear, juice-packed bits are called vesicles. Seeds and skin you probably already knew. Because citrus fruits have so little starch, they can't be harvested until they have reached the desired sugar-acid balance (i.e., they're ripe). And citrus likes a little cool weather—in fact, they don't change color without a cold spell. Oranges in the tropics are always green.

With the exception of a handful of popular hybrids (such as the grapefruit, which is a cross between an orange and a pummelo, both of which I like better than grapefruit), all members of the citrus family are native to Asia, especially Southeast Asia. The orange, considered one of the five or six most important fruits in the world, is a member of this genus, Citrus. For millennia, the orange was the monopoly of China, where it was cultivated as early as 2400 BC It made its first appearance outside China in the Indus Valley in the first century AD, and it was discovered by the Romans soon thereafter.

Oranges were carried to Rome in the dhows of Arab traders, which was faster than the traditional overland route through Asia Minor. Still, since citrus has to be picked after it's ripe, that was a long trip, so it seems likely that the Arab traders began to plant saplings in North Africa, from which it was a relatively short hop to Rome. In Rome, too, efforts were made to grow oranges, which we only know because the Roman epigrammatic poet, Marcus Valerius Martial, wrote directions for protecting the trees from the cold. But even with a few trees on hand, oranges were rare in Rome, and they pretty well vanished from the Mediterranean after the empire collapsed.

Invasion brought the orange back to Europe. Moors conquered Spain in the eighth century, and by the twelfth century had orchards spread from Granada to Seville. The Saracens introduced oranges to Sicily by the eleventh century, but oranges didn't make a reappearance in Italy until the thirteenth century. The south of France was ideal for oranges, and orchards spread through this region, as well. In fact, by 1332, oranges were being exported from Nice.

In areas where oranges were not easily grown, the wealthy built orangeries—elegantly appointed greenhouses that existed solely for the purpose of growing oranges. Doors could be thrown open in the summer, to take advantage of heat, sunlight, and bees. Palaces, of course, had orangeries, but even relatively modest country homes of the gentry could grow a fruit that was rapidly becoming common. By the time of Charles II, oranges were so widely available in England that "orange girls" were selling them in theaters.

Oranges made the jump to the New World at the same time Europeans did. Columbus carried both seeds and saplings with him, which throve in the soil and weather of Hispaniola. Panama was the first foothold on the mainland, and oranges were being sown in Mexico by 1518, carefully tended by Aztec priests who were astonished to see plants that were completely new. Hernando de Soto is responsible for the first recorded planting of oranges in Florida, in 1539. The Seminole Indians were grateful, and quickly incorporated oranges into their cuisine, creating such delicacies as red snapper steamed with fresh orange and sliced oranges marinated in honey. Soon, oranges had spread to any part of the New World that could grow them, and orangeries became as common in the colonies' finer homes as they were in Europe's.

Today, the annual production of all varieties of oranges, worldwide, is about 70,000,000 metric tons. There are several varieties of orange, the most important of which are the China orange, also known as the sweet orange; the mandarin orange, some varieties of which are called tangerines; and the Seville orange, also called the sour orange. Mandarin oranges may have picked up their alternate name in the days when shipments of the fruit came through Tangiers in North Africa.

The easy and elegant recipe below comes from Brazil. The Portuguese are known to have been growing oranges there by 1587. Today, Brazil is one of the world's leading commercial producers of sweet and mandarin oranges, leading even China and the United States. Hence, it is no surprise to find those mandarins known as tangerines showing up in cooking. Sea bass is a lovely fish with a delicate flavor. If you want to share this with friends, the recipe doubles easily. Serving this with a little white rice would give you something to soak up the lovely juice.

Peixe com Môlho de Tangerina
(Fish in Tangerine Sauce)

1 pound sea bass fillet

salt and pepper


½ tsp. ground coriander seeds

1 Tbs. lemon juice

1½ Tbs. olive oil

2 Tbs. chopped cilantro

½ small red onion

½ cup dry white whine

½ cup tangerine juice

Butter an ovenproof casserole dish that is only a little larger than your fish (you want to keep the sauce close to the fillet). Set the oven to 400°F.

Slice the onion, separating the rings. Combine the white wine and tangerine juice, and set aside.

Sprinkle the lemon juice on the fish, then season it with salt, pepper, and the coriander. Place the fish in the buttered casserole dish and drizzle it with the oil. Put the cilantro on top of the fish and the onion on top of the cilantro. Then pour the wine/juice mix over everything.

Bake uncovered at 400°F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily. Do not overcook.
Serves 2‑3.


Just in case you don't feel like juicing tangerines, you can sometimes find tangerine juice frozen. If not, I've fallen back on a frozen orange/tangerine blend—I just don't add the full amount of water, which give it a slightly bolder taste, compensating for not having it be all tangerine. I suspect that one of the multi-citrus juices would work as well, but might be a little tarter than either plain tangerine or the orange/tangerine blend.

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