Back to basics this week. While writing last week's giant guide to garnishes, I realized I've never touched on the simple task of cutting citrus wedges for garnishing cocktails. There really isn't much to it, but as in many things, the method has certain grace notes that can help you stand apart as a host, and I'll discuss those today.
All you'll need is a sharp knife, a cutting board, and well-washed citrus. A sharp knife is especially important here because a dull knife will squeeze the fruit into a misshapen lump, which will make your wedges look weird. No one likes weird wedges.
First up, please be sure to remove the stickers. This might seem obvious, right? But twice in a particular bar in Providence, I had a lemon wedge on a glass of water, and the sticker was still on the damn thing. Once, someone had even sliced neatly through it, as if it belonged there. I had to ask myself what other shortcuts they were taking behind the bar: were the tap lines clean? What about the ice well?
I can't promise your guests will notice that the stickers are gone from your citrus. I can promise they'll notice the stickers if they're present.
Second, cut the ends off your lemon or lime, and then cut it in half, from end to end. You're not cutting across the width of the fruit, but from one pointy end to the other.
(Some bartenders prefer to leave the ends attached. They like the more natural look of the fruit. I think wedges with squared off edges look a little neater, but in the end, it's an aesthetic judgment and your call to make.)
Turn the halves cut-side down on your cutting board. Using your knife, make two or three cuts through each citrus half. If you make two cuts, you'll have six wedges per piece of fruit. With three, you'll wind up with eight. Again, your call. (The solid lines above show two cuts. The dashed line is approximately where you'd make the third cut, if you want eight wedges.)
In any case, cut from the peel toward the center of each half.
Six lemon wedges, nearly ready to go.
Ah, this is why I said "nearly ready." See that ragged white stuff and those seeds? Get 'em outta there. Take your knife and trim away the white stuff, and then use the blade to sweep or pick the seeds away.
Top: three wedges with the ends cut off.
Bottom: three wedges with ends left on.
Lime, cut into eight wedges instead of six.
Now, here's what you'll find in many bars, and I find this perplexing. Here we have eight wedges that have been further cut into 24. What's the point of this? It seems designed to simply increase the number of wedges from each lime, thus cutting down on citrus expenses, but also making it hard to get much citrus flavor from that wedge. What else is the bar "economizing" on?
The last step is to cut a slit into the fruit so it can perch on the lip of a glass. In the case of the lime, I cut a notch in the center of the wedge; in the lemon, it's near the end, so it can stand up straight. Experiment with this. You can get your wedges to perch at all sorts of jaunty angles with practice.