Chewy Oven Dried Orange Slices with Toasted Almond, Chile, and Szechuan Peppercorn

I have talked about oven drying fruit before, but what can I say? I heart fruit with salt. And fruit with spice? Even better. Fruit with nuts? A classic. Smash it all together and taste buds have been known to explode. OrangeSzechAlmond

Of the thousands of varieties of oranges that exist, few get me as excited for winter fruit as the Cara Cara Navel. My eyes eat it for its smooth skin and luscious ruby red flesh. It peels and sections like a champ, and few pesky seeds get in the way. That little bonus “belly button” of orange nestled within the orange is as thrilling as the Cracker Jack prize at the bottom of the box. And its juicy, bouncy flavor is pure orange in a world of tangerines: low in acid and a pleasure circus every time.

When this unbridled sweetness is dried it becomes a sweet and complex candy. I prefer oven drying because then I needn’t store a giant food dehydrator those 300+ days per year I’m not drying fruit, but by all means if you have one, this recipe presents an opportunity to use it.

This snack is an elegant multiplex of flavor on its own or with a White Belgian beer. While it takes time, its preparation is extremely simple, and it’s a unique cure for the common marmalade to preserve those last orange flavors of the year. With a dusting of richness from toasted nuts, the flavor bite gathers heft. Spike it with the floral notes of those unique Szechuan ‘corns, and a chile flake one-two punch, and the combination is a knockout. And the flaky sea salt? Seriously…everything’s just better with flaky sea salt.

This recipe can double or scale quite soundly; note that it will take extra drying time and that the trays in the oven should be rotated after about two hours. And while I list storage information for this fruity confection, it is doubtful to be an issue. Enjoy!

Chewy Oven Dried Orange Slices with Toasted Almond, Chile, and Szechuan Peppercorn
Recipe type: fruit
Cuisine: oven dried
This preparation is extremely simple, and it’s a unique cure for the common marmalade to preserve orange flavor. With a dusting of richness from toasted nuts, a spike of floral Szechuan peppercorns, and chile’s one-two punch, the flavor bite gathers heft.
  • 1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
  • 1½ tsp dried chile flakes
  • 15 raw almonds
  • ½ tsp flaky sea salt
  • 3 sweet Cara-Cara or Navel oranges
  • Vegetable oil (for the rack)
  1. In a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat, toast the peppercorns, chile flakes, and almonds for 2-3 minutes. The almonds will darken in spots and the spices will become aromatic. Cool the spices slightly, then grind in a spice mill or clean coffee grinder until fine, being careful not to let the nuts grind into a paste. In a small bowl, toss the ground spices with the salt.
  2. Meanwhile, with a very sharp knife, supreme the oranges by slicing off all the skin and pith. Slice the fruit into very thin rounds, discarding seeds as you go.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and lower the rack to its lowest setting. Lightly oil a cooling rack and place it over a baking sheet. Or, if your oven rack is clean enough to cook on directly, lightly oil the rack.
  4. Lay the orange slices in a single layer and sprinkle the spice mixture generously over the top. Place the rack in the oven with a wooden spoon wedged in the door to keep it slightly ajar. Let the oranges dry for about 3 hours, until the fruit is dry to the touch.
  5. Remove the oranges from the rack immediately; they are ready to eat. Store either uncovered at room temperature in a cool, dry place or sealed airtight with a packet of desiccant (plucked from a package of seaweed).
Makes about 24 slices.

Kitchen Hack Fail: Don’t Dehydrate Fruit in the Clothes Dryer (Oh, and a Recipe for Chewy Dried Orange Slices)

So, like other food preservationists and kitchen tinkerers, I love to dry things – fruit slices, fruit leather, cheese, beef jerky, etc. In the heat of summer the sun does the work for me. But the other ten months of the year in Northern California, however, I usually rely on my oven on a low setting, door slightly ajar to release moisture, to do the job. And while effective, each bite contains the residual taste of enviro-guilt that comes from leaving the oven on and the heat blowing upward for several hours. The results are excellent, but I cannot help but be haunted by the fossil fuel energy loss necessary for a homemade Fruit Roll-Up.

Certainly I could buy a food dehydrator (and I still may), but my gas oven runs therms, plug-in dryers run watts, and I’m not science-geeky enough to know if they are truly more energy efficient. Plus, I thought, I already own a large piece of heating equipment that dries sopping wet clothing in record speed (also fueled by gas), that spins with convection-like capability.

The Newton’s apple (orange?) that struck me with the idea was a perfectly shriveled piece of orange peel found at the bottom of the clean laundry basket. Had I been sitting on (and ignoring) the world’s best food dehydrator next to the washing machine and not taking advantage of its power? Is it possible to more efficiently dry fruit, vegetables, and meat in the high-heat, high-motion clothes dryer in one round of Permanent Press? Sadly, at least in my scientific exploration, the answer is no.