I was excited to see blood oranges show up at the grocery store again. It had been a while and I missed them. Dinner formed itself around the arrival of this lovely fruit. A pan-seared Chilean sea bass in a blood orange butter sauce. The fish was soft and tender, but it was the tart & buttery sauce that really made it. I served it with a shaved fennel, blood orange, and pomegranate salad. While making it, I couldn’t help but think about the first time I encountered a blood orange in real life. It seemed then like a wonderful surprise, and I still feel a little bit of the same excitement each time I peel back the innocent orange skin to reveal that lovely ruby flesh.
This is the story of my first blood orange.
It had been more than 24 hours since a risibly tiny taxi dropped me off at the door of my new Florentine flat. Jet-lag fueled sleep had trumped hunger the previous afternoon and I was only then realizing that I’d slept through three meals and my first full day in Italy.
I was ravenous.
And so with a grumbling tummy and a pocket-sized map in hand, I ventured out for the first time onto the cobblestone streets of Florence.
You don’t know this about me yet, but I’ve always been hesitant to walk into unfamiliar stores. It’s something to do with a general dislike of salespeople. In Europe, where the shop attendants all seem to be either aggressively congenial or simply aggressive, this fear magnifies ten-fold
Because of this phobia, it took several complete laps around my new Florentine neighborhood before I finally worked up the nerve to enter a small market. It was a tiny shop, run by a stocky middle-aged woman with a creased face and enormous breasts. She had a scarf tied around her head (just like in the movies!) and was arranging a display of Ritter Sport bars on the counter.
When she asked if she could help, I panicked. My brain stumbled over the meager Italian vocabulary I’d picked up playing a ridiculous language-learning crime solving video game I’d gotten for Christmas. I knew how to say “Call the police, my diamonds are missing!” and “Does this hotel have a safe?” but little else.
I stood in silence until I noticed a crate in front of me overflowing with plump oranges. Oranges! Something from the vocabulary game clicked in my head and, feeling rather cool and international about myself, I pointed at the fruit and asked, “Sono arance?”
Never before has pride so quickly and completely turned into utter and total embarrassment. “Did I just ask this woman if these oranges are, in fact, oranges?!?!”
The lady grunted a “sì” and glared at me exactly the way one should glare at idiot American girls who can’t identify oranges by sight. Mortified, I requested five because cinque was the only number I could remember, and rushed out of the store as quickly as I could.
After another hour or so of wandering and forcing myself to repeat the torture, I finally returned home in possession of a fresh loaf of unsalted Tuscan wheat bread (ordered in another hasty panic at a bakery) and two cans of Italian-packed tuna in olive oil. I was exhausted, starving, and relieved to be done with the torture of shopping in translation.
I sat on my small couch alone, marveling over the fact that there wasn’t a single other person in that entire boot-shaped country who knew me. I peeled the orange, expecting it to look like any other, when I noticed the fiery red pulp inside. It took a moment before my eyes and thoughts came together and I understood what I was looking at.
“A blood orange!” I said to myself, completely delighted in the recognition. I ate it slowly and thoughtfully, excited but totally unaware of the many other surprises I’d encounter over the coming months in this delicious country.
Blood Orange Butter Sauce (for fish)
Though I ate my first blood orange quite simply, I’ve since experimented with other preparations. This lovely butter sauce is wonderful over grilled or pan seared fish (Chilean sea bass & sea scallops, especially).
2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of shallots, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh squeezed blood orange juice
1 bay leaf
2 sticks butter, cut in small pieces
Salt & Pepper to taste
In a medium saucepan, place 2 tbl. of the butter and heat on medium-high heat until melted. Add the shallots and saute 2-3 minutes or until tender.
Add the orange juice. Cook for 5-7 min. or until the liquid is reduced by about half. Season with salt & freshly cracked pepper.
While whisking constantly, add the pieces of butter one at a time so that each one is well incorporated.
Remove from the heat and serve over grilled or pan-seared fish.
To Prepare over Chilean Sea Bass
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Wash and dry the Chilean Sea Bass fillets. Salt and pepper on both sides.
Heat bit of oil in a cast iron skillet until it is smoking.
Place the Sea Bass in the hot pan and let sear for 2 minutes without moving. Turn to the other side and place the pan in the hot oven for four minutes.
Remove from the oven and plate, topping with the butter sauce and garnishing with pomegranate seeds.