Kumquats: What they are and how to use them

J.M. HIRSCH AP Food Editor Published:

There's really no way around it. Kumquats are an odd little fruit.

Visually, they resemble diminutive oranges. But they technically aren't citrus. And unlike oranges, it is the thin skin that is sweet, while the flesh is sour.

You probably won't find bushels of them at the grocer, but most stores will have a few pints (they usually are sold in the same containers as cherry tomatoes) tucked away among the "strange" produce offerings.

And they are worth looking for. Here's why:

In a tiny (about the size of a large olive), bright orange package, kumquats pack a puckeringly intense sweet-tart flavor that complements both sweet and savory dishes. They also make a mean cocktail.

Kumquats, which originated in China, are eaten whole -- as in, skin and all. The seeds can be chomped, too. But that's a matter of taste.

I prefer to slice the kumquats in half and use the tip of the knife to pop out the seeds (it's easy). The halves are amazing drizzled with or dunked in a bit of honey.

Don't bother juicing them. Because the sweetness resides in the skin, you'll be disappointed. Better is to halve and seed one, then blend it into your smoothie. In general, the intensity of these flavor bombs means a little goes a long way.

Kumquats should be firm, but tender. They can be stored at room temperature for several days (their flavor is best at this temperature), or refrigerated for two to three weeks.

If you try kumquats fresh and find the skin is too tough, dunk them in boiling water for about 20 seconds, then place them in ice water to cool.

Oh, and the funny name? It comes from the Cantonese kin ku, which means "golden orange."

For more ideas for using kumquats, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/A84AVG

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Kumquat and Red Onion Salsa on Baked Haddock

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 4

2 eggs

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 pounds haddock fillets, divided into 4 pieces

1 medium red onion, quartered

1/2 jalapeno pepper (with seeds if you like it hot)

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro

1 pint kumquats, halved and seeded

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 400 F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a wide, shallow bowl or pie pan, whisk together the eggs and flour. In a second similar bowl or pan, mix the breadcrumbs and salt.

One piece at a time, dip the haddock in the egg blend, turning to coat all sides, then dredge through the breadcrumbs, patting them on to cover evenly.

Arrange the haddock on the prepared baking sheet. Spritz the tops of the fish with cooking spray. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily.

Meanwhile, in a food processor combine the onion, jalapeno and garlic. Process until chopped. Add the cilantro and kumquats, then pulse to chop.

Transfer the kumquat mixture to a medium bowl. Stir in the olive oil, honey and lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper.

Serve the haddock topped with the salsa.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 410 calories; 70 calories from fat (18 percent of total calories); 8 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 190 mg cholesterol; 50 g carbohydrate; 35 g protein; 9 g fiber; 720 mg sodium.

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J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is author of the recent cookbook, "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." His Off the Beaten Aisle column also appears at FoodNetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch.