Flaming citrus peels is not only a fun party trick.
Flaming a citrus peel can actually make your cocktails taste even better. It provides a smoky element that pairs delightfully well with bright citrus fruits like oranges or grapefruits.
Citrus peels (also called rinds or skin) are the tough outer layer that may be removed to reveal the edible parts of the fruit. These rinds make a lovely garnish for cocktails and contain a high concentration of aromatic oils. When you light the peel over an open flame, these oils release and infuse your cocktail. And don’t worry, the peel itself is not flammable, only the internal oils, otherwise known as limonene.
This post will cover everything you need to know to flame citrus peels at home like a pro. We hope that you can employ your newfound skills at your next dinner party or themed cocktail night with the girls.
Why Should You Flame Citrus Peels?
Bartenders around the globe flame citrus rinds to elevate craft cocktails to new (and tastier) heights. It is an exciting presentation that is sure to wow anyone waiting for their boozy beverage.
The practice was first coined in the 1970s by bartender Pepe Ruiz at iconic West Hollywood restaurant Chasen’s. He flamed a citrus peel over a stirred vodka and sherry martini to produce the Flame of Love, which he served to none other than Dean Martin.
You can use the peel of just about any citrus fruit, including lemons, grapefruits, and oranges. With that being said, each citrus boasts its own defining characteristics. Lemons have a light, somewhat tart taste when flamed. While, oranges will have more of a caramelised flavour.
How To Flame A Citrus Peel
Below we have prepared a step-by-step guide on how to flame a citrus peel like a professional bartender.
Step One: Cut A Coin Sized Section Of The Citrus Peel Using a Y-Peeler
Cut a coin-sized section (about 2 to 4cms in diameter) of the citrus peel with a Y-peeler. Peelers work best since they only trim the outside without going deep enough to cut into the actual fruit. Although, you may use a paring knife if that is all you have on hand at home.
You need to ensure that you cut the citrus fruit deep enough to get maximum pith and zest.
Step Two: Express The Citrus Peel
Expressing a citrus rind helps ensure that you get out as much of the fruit’s natural oils as possible. Gently hold the peel with both hands between your thumb and forefinger. Point the skin-side towards your cocktail, pinching it along the centre to release the oils. Continue to pinch and twist the peel until most oils are released. Any leftover oils will be extracted through the flaming process.
Lastly, you may want to lightly rub the peel along the rim of your cocktail glass for added citrus flavour.
Step Three: Light Your Citrus Peel Up!
Pre-heat the citrus peel using a match or torch for around five seconds for optimal results. Avoid using a standard lighter for this step as they often contain harmful chemicals like butane that will ruin the taste of your cocktail.
Next, light the flame and position the peel at a 45-degree angle above your cocktail. Pinch the citrus rind firmly over the open flame. This will caramelise and release the citrus' natural aromatic oils.
You will know you have extracted the oils correctly as soon as you see rapid bursts of sparks and hear slight crackling.
Step Four: Sip Your Cocktail
Once the oils are successfully extracted, toss your citrus peel right into the cocktail glass to give your drink an intense smoky flavour. Although, you may throw it away if you would like a milder effect. Now, all that is left to do is enjoy your flamed cocktail!
Do I Need To Use Fresh Fruit To Flame A Citrus Peel?
You should aim to use fresh citrus fruits since the rinds tend to be thicker and more solid, meaning there are likely enough oils inside to infuse your beverage. Another good indicator is when fruit have dimples as they are simply pockets filled with aromatic oils.
What Type Of Cocktails Taste Best With Flamed Citrus Peels?
Flamed citrus peels make a spectacular addition to cocktails with pre-existing citrus ingredients like Angostura (or orange) Bitters, Cointreau or Triple Sec. It also elevates whiskey cocktails, in particular, since the spirit boasts oaky, slightly caramelised flavour on its own. Thus, adding a citrus element like a flamed orange twist will pair well. Some classic cocktails that you may want to flame citrus rinds for include Cosmopolitans, Negronis, and an Old Fashioned.
Santé! Cheers! Enjoy!