Knife Skills

Videos and step-by-step guides, each highlighting an essential knife technique.

Knife Skills: How to Cut Citrus Fruit Into Wedges, Slices, and Suprèmes

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How to cut citrus slices, wedges, and suprèmes. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

This week we're gonna show you how to cut citrus fruits into slices (rounds), wedges, and suprèmes (aka fancy-pants segments). Seems like simple stuff, right? And it is, but doing it right can make a world of difference in how your finished dishes look and taste.

When shopping, look for fruit that seems heavy for its size. Most ripe citrus fruit should give quite a bit when squeezed. If too firm, leave it on the shelf and move on. Citrus fruit will get softer as it sits at home, but don't expect a sour orange to become sweeter. Once it's been picked, it's about as sweet as it's gonna be.

Ripe citrus fruit can be stored for around two weeks in the crisper drawer in your fridge or in an open bowl on the counter if your home is relatively cool. Once cut open, store citrus in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to five days.

Citrus Slices (Rounds)

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One of my very first restaurant jobs, back when I worked at a Mongolian grill-style joint in Cambridge (yes, I was a spatula-wielding Knight of the Round Grill), was cutting oranges into thin rounds for the bar. I got through about a half case of them before the chef, a large, scarred Colombian who preferred to wear those skinny, button-up dishwasher's shirts so he could show off his tattoos, came by and chucked them in the garbage.

Apparently my rounds weren't thin and even enough, which largely had to do with the fact that I'd never sharpened my knife and ended up crushing the oranges rather than slicing them. Rule #1 of knife skills: keep your blade sharp, and hone it regularly.

Uses: garnishing drinks, layering over or under roasted, grilled, or steamed chicken, fish, or vegetables.

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Once you've got a sharp knife, slicing rounds are a piece of cake. Hold the fruit firmly but gently with one hand, tucking your fingers into a claw so that your knuckles extend beyond your fingertips.

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Slice by starting at the heel and pulling back on the blade with gently downward pressure. Remember, you're slicing, not chopping, which means that you should try and maximize horizontal motion while pressing down just enough to get it to slide through the fruit. The more gently you are, the more even and pretty your rounds will be.

Citrus Wedges

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A fresh burst of citrus at the table can liven up flavors in a way that adding it in the kitchen just can't. There are dozens and dozens of ways to cut citrus to be squeezed at the table from simple (cut that lemon in half) to elaborate (you know, those teeny-tiny mesh skirts that they cover lemons with at fancy pants restaurants so you don't get pits on your steamed fish?).

I personally waffle through various forms, but the one I keep coming back to is your basic twelfth-of-a-lemon wedge.

Uses: Any time you want to give guests the opportunity to add more citrus at the table, including drinks, grilled foods, tacos, fried foods, and...many, many others.

Step 1: Trim the Ends

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Start by slicing off the ends of the fruit. You want to cut off just enough that the internal flesh is barely exposed.

Step 2: Split in Half

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Next, slice the fruit in half along the equator.

Step 3: Split Again

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Place one cut half down on the cutting board, and slice it in half crosswise.

Step 4: Cut Into Wedges

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Cut it in half two more times, dividing it into six even wedges. Repeat with the second half of the fruit for a total of twelve wedges.

Step 5: Trim Pith

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If you're dining in mixed company and want to impress your date, here's how to get extra fancy by cleaning up each individual wedge. Start by slicing off the white pith at the edge of the wedge.

Step 6: Remove Seeds

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Using the tip of your knife, carefully pry out any seeds from inside and discard.

Citrus Suprèmes (Segments)

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There are several reasons to cut your citrus fruits into pith-free segments (suprèmes, pronounced soo-'prems, if you want to be fancy about it).

  • The pith is bitter and can ruin the flavor of the fruit. I'm sure many a grapefruit hater would change their mind after tasting the sweet segments the way they were intended.
  • The membrane between the segments is papery, gets stuck in your teeth, and adds nothing to the flavor of the fruit
  • The slices can be incorporated much more attractively into a finished dish. Fruit salads are tastier. Relishes and vinaigrettes can be eaten without having to pick bits out.
  • It makes you look way cool.

Uses: salads, garnishes, relishes, salsas, chutneys, and eating plain.

Step 1: Trim Ends

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Start by slicing off the ends of the fruit. You want to cut off just enough that the internal flesh is barely exposed.

Step 2: Start Peeling

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Lay the fruit down on one of its cut surfaces, then insert the knife blade into the space between the flesh and the skin at an angle that matches the contour of the fruit.

Step 3: Follow Contours

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Work your knife around with a gently sawing motion, following the contour of the fruit and removing just enough skin to expose the flesh underneath. Your goal is to get as high a yield as possible on the flesh.

Step 4: Work Around the fruit

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Keep working around the fruit, slicing off thin segments of the skin.

Step 5: Clean it Up

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Once you've removed all the hard skin, go back and use your knife to trim off any extra bits of pith that have stuck to the surface of the flesh.

Step 6: Slice Along a Membrane

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Holding the fruit in one hand, look for the thin strips of membrane that separate each segment. You're going to be cutting on either side of each of those membranes, as close as possible. Pick a segment, then insert your knife close to the inside of the membrane, cutting through almost to the core.

Step 7: Cut Out the Wedge

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Move along to the other side of the wedge and cut along the inside of the opposite membrane, again almost to the core.

Step 8: Release the Slice

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The slice should release with no pith or membrane attached.

Step 9: Repeat

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Continue working around the fruit, cutting along either side of each membrane and releasing slices into a bowl as you go.

Step 10: Finished

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Your core should look like this when you're done.

Step 11: Squeeze!

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Squeeze the core over the segments to release any extra juice. Store the segments in their own juice in a sealed container in the fridge.

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