Citrus zest—the bright outmost layer of the peel—is rich in flavorful oils that can enliven everything from vinaigrettes to baked goods.
Before you zest the fruit, be sure to scrub it well to remove any wax or chemicals. When zesting, take care to remove only the thin, colored layer of the rind and not the bitter white part.
Using a Zester
Hold the fruit in one hand and the zester in the other. Draw the sharp edges of the zester's holes across the peel to cut away the brightly colored zest in thin shreds. This is the best method for making attractive zest strips to be used as a garnish or decoration. If you need tiny bits of zest, you can chop the strips with a chef's knife.
Using a Grater
The fine rasps of a handheld grater may be used to zest citrus fruit. Hold the fruit in one hand and the grater in the other, and rub the fruit back and forth across the grater. This technique produces tiny bits of zest, eliminating any need for chopping it.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)