Getting the Squeeze

It’s all in the Squeeze! Because there is nothing like fresh-picked flavor.

Central America is blessed with many abundances and the flavor of just-picked fruit is one of the many memories that last long after a trip. So what’s that amazing flavor? Is it grown on site, nearby? Ask your host where it is sourced. It could come from their garden, grandpa’s garden, a local grower, the farmer’s market (mercado), a road-side fruit stand, even semi-frozen packets of fresh fruit pulp.

Local farmer’s markets are a feast for the eyes and the camera as the colors, the aromas, the faces, the hustle and bustle and the sounds combine to make it a chance to check out the local lifestyle.  Mercados (markets) carry fresh locally grown goods, cheeses, coffee, and seafood, however we found that even in the tropics of Costa Rica, great looking grapes (Chile) and apples, peaches and pears (USA) were on the tables; clearly not indigenous to the region. Don’t be shy, you probably won’t be denied a chance to taste any of the goods on display if you show interest.

Growers in Costa Rica can chose to sell locally or use the efficient global transportation and distribution networks to export products. For you, it means produce can move across continents as quickly as it can across states or provinces, bringing great tasting produce to a local market near you.

One needs to be a bit more creative in where to look.  Check out Latin, Mexican, Asian or Middle Eastern markets, all carry a dizzying array of fresh tropical fruit and frozen puree. Once in hand we tackle the next great challenge.

Why juice tastes better in the tropics. Great tasting food comes from the freshest ingredients. Let’s focus on citrus; lemons, limes and oranges.  Excellent in their natural state, but they also travel well encased in their own bubble-wrap skin. The method of extraction and handling fresh juice makes all the difference to maintain that wonderful taste until you serve it.

Tools of the trade for extraction or “The Squeeze”

Think about the term “fresh-squeezed juice”, the term defines the process; squeezed, not routed or reamed. While you could just use your strong hands to squeeze a half or whole fruit, we prefer the simplicity of time-tested tools over contraptions and spinning things  Professional bartenders get it right when they use the simplest, most durable and efficient tools when making drinks with fresh squeezed citrus.

The pithy white insides are bitter. These were squeezed on a rotary juicer.

The very effective metal style hand squeezer shown here is available at most Latin markets in North America for around $4-6.00USD, more at liquor chains or kitchen specialty stores. These markets often carry different sized models that match the size and color of the citrus intended to be juiced; green for limes, yellow for lemons and orange, well you get it. Just a word of caution, inserting the halved fruit can be counter-intuitive; the cut surface of the fruit faces downward towards the holes in the cup while the plunger side essentially breaks the back of the fruit and squeezes juice out through the holes over your bowl or glass. You’ll know from the tangy shower if you’ve loaded the fruit the wrong way.

Why the press or hand squeezer?  Hand squeezers always get it right.  Having said that, spinning or spindle devices can too, but while commonly sold, these devices that rotate the fruit over a spindle or a hand held spindle must be used sparingly, meaning the user must be careful to avoid over processing the fruit beyond the juice cells. It makes sense to want that “last-drop” for all the effort, but electro-mechanical or jar-top reaming devices can encourage an overuse of force and time in motion, meaning, after the juice has been extracted, we are only adding bitterness. The white sectional fibers and pith on the inside of the fruit extract a bitterness when over exposed to the reamer.  How much is enough?  Just the right amount, that’s how much, and that’s exactly what makes it so hard and easy at the same time.  We do use electronic juicers and every batch of fruit, based on its ripeness or softness changes the pressure we use or the time we keep it on the spinner.  Electrical devices can also friction-heat the juice, which, beyond what we have just discussed begins the oxidation deterioration of the flavor, our next topic.

Handling fresh juice: Time, temperature and air are the enemies of fresh fruit juice, of almost anything fresh, but fresh juice begins to deteriorate the moment a whole citrus is cut open, exposing the inside to air. Heating juice is essentially a form of pasteurization or preserving and we know what that does to flavor.  If your fruit is clean, fresh with no spoiled spots or insects, it should be bacteria-free. But deciding to heat, pasteurize or preserving is your decision. Fresh juice, especially the delicate lime, when exposed to air at room temperature will begin to deteriorate in flavor in just minutes; taking on a processed or bottled juice flavor.  Enough said about that, prep juice when you are ready to use it or cover and refrigerate till use.  Once mixed with a sugar solution, sugar is a preservative and will help to stabilize the favor.

Gadget or Gimmick: Now that you have that part down, lets talk about the other kitchen gadgets gimmicks. We love the variety of tools and toys available in the foodie marketplace. We’ve even got drawers full of one-time use gadgets we’ve tried over the years.  Like that mango slicer; how did that improve the rim of a glass method, or the natural appeal of a half sliced mango, scored and folded to open on your plate.  Digressing, those spring-loaded scissor-type devices will give you a squirt and a pinch but also take two hands to steady it and are not efficient enough to give (or your patience) enough quantity. Now the reamers and other tools, well its a combination of the above, and while they are great when properly used, its just more difficult than the old hand-held stand-by that we stand by.