Mix the sugar and water in a wide stainless-steel pan and, stirring, bring to the boil. Carefully peel the skin off the oranges as thinly as you can. The best implement to use is a potato peeler. Make sure that you leave all the white pith still attached to the oranges. Finely slice the peel into thin strips and drop into the by now boiling syrup. Turn the heat down and poach this zest for 15 minutes.
Carefully sieve the syrup into a heatproof dish, then return the zest and half the syrup to the same pan and continue to cook over a medium flame until the sugar turns dark brown. Reserve the other half of the syrup and cool. This is why you are using a stainless pan, because it allows you to see exactly how brown the caramelised syrup and zest are. Do not be too timid: it must be nut brown, but on no account allow it to blacken. As soon as you are satisfied with the colour, add the other reserved half of the syrup. This will dilute the syrup, stopping it setting and cooling it down a little. Allow to cool and stir. If you don’t caramelise the zesty part, the whole mixture will not be flavoured enough.
While the zest and syrup are reducing and browning, prepare the oranges. Cut the top and bottom off each orange and then with a small sharp knife slice the pith off in vertical strips, leaving a fully peeled orange. This sounds difficult but isn’t. Slice the peeled oranges into rounds and arrange in a serving dish or bowl. Pick out any pips you can easily remove. Set aside until the zest and caramel syrup is only warm and then pour this on to the orange slices. Carefully turn the slices in this liquid until coated. Make sure the zest is evenly distributed.
Best served on the same day.
© 1996 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.