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Know Your Ingredients: Buddha’s Hand

This is Buddha’s Hand. It looks like an octopus got a little to friendly with a lemon. Or maybe something from a far off alien world. This is one unusual looking fruit, and personally, I couldn’t resist buying one when I saw it at the local grocery store. (For those of you in the Madison area Whole Foods and Millers in Verona both occasionally carry these fine fruits. They are in season for pretty much just Januay around here and they never have too many. I think they each get just a case each. So get them while you can.)

Why should I get a Buddha’s Hand, other than the “wow” factor? First of all, the smell, the aroma, the fragrance — it’s just outstanding, like lemon squared. Think a smoother deeper citrus scent than crushed lemongrass. But cut it in half and … there is no fruit, just a huge bunch of pith and rind and no taste, lemon-scented segments of citrus to appease your palate. Now you are so very disheartened.

But wait! Eating the inside is not what this fruit is for. You want Buddha’s Hand for its zest. The zest (the thin yellow layer of skin on the outside that is packed with those fine scented oils) is what you want. It is about twice as intense as lemon zest and more unique in flavor.

The question that next comes to mind is why should I pay $5, $7 or even $9 just for some interesting zest? I am a fan of Moroccan cuisine, in which cooks use preserved lemons. These lemons are typically used only for that heavily intoxicating rind. And your Buddha’s Hand is nothing but rind! So why not make preserved Buddha’s Hand?

After the preservation these will last you for months or longer depending on your method. You will be able to put this great flavor into your cooking and wow everyone.

Preserved Buddha’s Hand (recipe 1)

  • 1 Buddha’s Hand
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tbl sugar

Wash the Buddha’s Hand several times to remove and wax or dirt that may be clinging to it. Slice the Buddha’s Hand into thin rounds (a mandoline or very sharp knife works). Combine the salt and sugar. In a bowl big enough to hold the whole fruit sprinkle a layer of salt/sugar across the bottom. Next lay down a layer of Buddha’s Hand slices. Next a layer of salt/sugar, then fruit etc. Make sure the top layer is salt/sugar.

Cover the bowl and set aside in a place of moderate temperature for about a month or two. This will be come very very fragrant!!! What will happen is slowly the salt and sugar will draw the moisture out of the Buddha’s Hand. After a week or so it should look like fruit in a thick syrup. after the month or two remove the slices gently rinse them with cold water and then dehydrate. I used a food dehydrator set at 120°F, but a gas oven with just the pilot light, or an electric on low with the oven door ajar would work too. During the drying process any excess salt or sugar will crystallize on the outside; this is fine.

Once the slices are firm enough to break in half they are done. Store them like you would any other spice. They have a wonderfully intense citrus taste and aroma. I generally use a piece about 1/4″ square as a substitute for 1 tbl of lemon zest. You can grind this to make a wonderful citrus dust. A one inch strip can be used much like a citrus-flavored bay leaf for soups stews and other long cooked dishes.

Note: when using the above Buddha’s Hand you may, depending on your tastes, wish to rehydrate this in a few changes of water to remove some of the salt.

Preserved Buddha’s Hand (recipe 2)

  • 1 Buddha’s Hand
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 dried chili (I recommend either Aleppo or Guajillo)
  • 4 black peppercorns (If you can get ahold of them Cubeb Pepper would be more authentic)
  • 3 tbl salt
  • Warm water (as needed)
  • 1 large (1qt) wide mouth jar

Wash your Buddha’s Hand very well. Starting at the finger-like end, make four cuts just over 3/4 of the way through to the stem, creating eight roughly equal wedges of fruit that should still be connected. Gently pull open the wedges and pack 1 tbl of the salt into the center of the hand. Place all of the spices into the jar, then stuff the hand tightly into the jar and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Cover with warm water then seal the lid.

Store in a dark place for about a month before using. Once opened, store the remaining Buddha’s Hand in the refrigerator. This can be used in place of preserved lemons in any dish. This will also soften the fruit and allow you to puree and add to sauces or deserts.

Try replacing some or all of the zest in Ellie’s Clementine Curd recipe with either Buddha’s Hand Zest or minced preserved Buddha’s Hand.

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