There are two reasons to section1 a citrus. The first is for presentation, an elegant way to use lemons, oranges and grapefruit pieces in all kinds of recipes, from salads to cakes. The second is to remove the tough, often bitter, pith and inner membrane so that the flavor of the fruit can shine.
As we’re at the height of citrus season, with exotic blood oranges and meyer lemons in the stores, it’s a good time to take advantage of these wonderful fruits.
The basic idea is to first peel the fruit, taking the white pith along with it, and then separate as much of the flesh fruit from the inner membranes. A sharp knife, as always, is important here, I like to use a small paring knife for most fruits because it’s thinner blade lets me extract more flesh. A good chef’s knife is fine, though, especially for bigger citrus like grapefruit.
First, cut off each end of the fruit so that it’s flat enough to stand up on its own. You want to cut just to the flesh of the fruit, but not too much. It’s ok to take a few shallow slices, you can always cut more.
With the fruit standing on one end, cut into the peel where it meets the flesh and use a sawing motion to work down the side of the fruit and remove the peel and the pith. Make sure to follow the shape of the fruit as you work down by adjusting the angle of your knife along the way. Try to avoid cutting into the flesh as much as possible but make sure to get the bitter pith.
Rotate and peel the fruit until all of the pith and peel are removed. You may have a few white pith pieces left, just trim those off on your own. What’s left is an orb of just the flesh of the fruit and the inner membranes that hold the sections together.
Now you want to cut each section of the fruit out and leave the membranes that separate each section behind. Cut as close to the membrane as possible, towards the center of the fruit, to get as much of the fruit out, but be careful to fully detach the flesh from the membrane. The first and last sections will probably be the hardest. Be sure to pick out any seeds that may be lingering.
You’ll be left with peel, the self contained core and your beautiful citrus sections. Be sure to squeeze the core over a bowl to save any juice you might want to save for salad dressing or to use in a recipe.
You might also see this technique referred to as supreming or to an individual section as a supreme (or even suprême), pronounced “soo-prem”. It’s a French word (it’s like the French have a word for everything) that originally referred to a filet of chicken breast with just the wing bone attached, all other bones and skin removed. The term is now used generically to refer to anything with all of the skin and bones removed, somewhat cleverly applied here to the “skin” and “bones” of a fruit. ↩