Until recently, I’d only read about finger limes and definitely wanted to try this hard-to-find, exotic citrus variety. Called “citrus caviar,” these limes diverge from their citrus brethren by containing little juice vesticles that do, indeed, look and behave like caviar, popping in your mouth and releasing a lovely, limey, tart flavor. They’re like a natural take on molecular gastronomy and inspire lots of recipe experiments.
I found finger limes in the flesh, so to speak, over the holidays at a Whole Foods in Santa Monica and I’ve been playing with them since then. Like other exotic citrus, their season is short and comes in the winter. Finding some in Southern California makes sense because the few U.S. farmers who have begun growing this temperamental Australian native seem to reside there.
I’m now so hooked on this fruit that I ordered some online (see sources below) in order to continue my edible experiments. Among the many joys of finger limes is their multiple colors. The handful bought in Santa Monica had juice pearls that ranged from off white to pale green, bright green and deep pink. The flavors subtly varied from color to color as well.
The actual fruit is about three inches long and looks like a dark, scaly banana slug. Given their small size, each lime contains only about a tablespoon of juice pearls. For this reason, I take issue with the usual instructions to cut the lime in half width wise and squeeze out the vesticles. This squashes some of them, reducing the small volume available. A better approach is to lightly score the skin lengthwise on each side in order to open the fruit, them carefully scrape out the pearls, wasting none. As seen here, there are six sections in each lime, so careful cutting of the membrane to release the pearls is also needed as part of my less-wasteful harvesting method.
Recipes incorporating finger limes are available online and I agree with the opinion of one grower that they’re an ideal mate for oysters. Raw oysters, yes! But they’re also quite wonderful with grilled or broiled oysters that have been cooked with some flavoring ingredients. Sprinkle on some lime pearls right before serving.
As seen here, I loaded up the oysters with some chopped garlic, sherry vinaigrette, spices and a half-teaspoon of Lemonaise (definitely the best commercial mayo out there). Remove from under the broiler when they bubble (only a minute or two), add some chopped mint, the citrus caviar and enjoy.
Another iteration features my all-time favorite grilled oyster treatment, which includes creme fraiche and tarragon. See recipe in following post.
Finger limes are also quite divine with various kinds of fish and particularly with crudo. Try this simple idea: On bite-sized slices of sashimi-quality ahi tuna, layer on a little bit of grainy Dijon mustard and finely diced shallot. Pour a little hazelnut oil on top, add some julienned mint or basil, then garnish with finger lime pearls.
Finger lime pearls are great with smoked fish and could probably be used as a final garnish with all kinds of preparations that would be compatible with citrus. An idea in my future will be to experiment with finger lime pearls swirled through citrus curd — probably cooled citrus curd in order not to “cook” and possibly penetrate the pearls.
An added bonus is that the skin of finger limes can be zested, delivering an exotic, limey scent with an herbal backnote. No surprise: The rind contains isomenthone, a compound related to mint that is rare in citrus.
The season might run out in January, but try these sources online: Shanley Farms, Mikuni Wild Harvest and Marx Foods. I ordered a small container from Shanley that has a mixture of sizes and all seem to be of the pale-green-pearls persuasion. Happily, these little limes have a distinct Kaffir lime aroma, making an exotic fruit even more so.