'The only good thing about winter," my niece Liora declared, "is the oranges." Growing up in Jerusalem, she knew that oranges are at their best in the cold season. If oranges were a rare fruit, we would count them as one of our most treasured foods. As a child in Poland, my mother never saw an orange. When she arrived in the US at six, her father bought her an orange and, she told me, "it was the most delicious food I had ever tasted." She loved oranges for the rest of her life. A juicy orange is delightful for eating out of hand, for its sweet taste and its appealing aroma when you peel it. In the kitchen, oranges function almost as two ingredients - the refreshing, sweet, slightly tangy juice, and the aromatic peel, which lends a pleasing, bittersweet note to cakes and sauces. Any orange-lover knows that freshness is the key to the sunny-hued fruit's charm, whether it's being juiced or used in desserts or savory dishes. That's why orange segments are so popular in salads or as a fresh embellishment for entrees, and why orange juice is so popular in uncooked dressings like vinaigrette. Thai chefs often garnish their spicy sauteed dishes with an orange slice; the juicy fruit helps refresh your palate after the peppery seasonings. When using orange juice or orange segments in main courses, the shorter the simmering time, the better. If the juice is added to a sauce that is served hot, like the classic French orange sauce for duck, chefs add the juice at the last minute so it keeps its bright, fresh flavor. There is another way to use the juice, however. You can simmer it until its volume reduces by about half, so you obtain a more intense orange flavor and a thicker liquid, essentially a fresh juice concentrate. A pastry chef I studied with in Paris used this technique to flavor butter-cream frosting for cakes; using juice alone would add too much liquid. Orange marmalade is another exception to the rule of brief cooking. Like any jam, it requires lengthy simmering but here too the goal is a concentrated rather than a fresh flavor. In much of the Western world, Israel became identified with oranges due to its exports of the fruit. Yet sweet oranges originated in China, according to food historian Alan Davidson, author of Fruit, and thus are known botanically as citrus sinensis. Eventually oranges spread to India and the Near East, and later the Arabs brought them to Spain. In ancient China oranges were first valued for their fragrant peel, noted Davidson. Chinese chefs use dried orange or tangerine peel and add it in small pieces to stir-fried and braised dishes for a zesty, sharp accent. "In China, the older the peel, the more prized the flavor," wrote Nina Simonds, star of the "Spices of Life" video series on www.spicesoflife.com and author of Chinese Seasons. When flavoring foods with orange peel, you use only the bright orange part, called the zest, and not the bitter white pith. Most people grate the orange peel finely for flavoring cake batters, frostings and dressings. For making orange-flavored sauces, a favorite method used by French chefs is to remove the orange peel with a vegetable peeler or a tool called a zester, then to cut the peel, without any of the pith, in very thin strips. The strips are then blanched, or boiled briefly in water, and drained before being added to a sauce. Without this step, French chefs feel the peel would make the sauce too bitter. However, they do use the peel in small amounts without blanching, for example as a strip tied with aromatic herbs in a herb bouquet to flavor a stew. Cooks in China often blanch the orange zest as well. Simonds uses this technique for her aromatic duck soup with orange, for which she simmers baked duck pieces with the blanched peel, gingerroot and star anise, then adds bean threads (also called silver noodles). Most cooks buy the dried peel at Asian markets but, wrote Simonds, it can be made at home. You simply let thin strips of orange peel air dry for a few days. You can then wrap it tightly in plastic bags, store it in a cool dry place, and it will keep for months, for use when the juicy oranges of winter are only a pleasant memory. BAKED CHICKEN WITH ORANGE AND PORT SAUCE A savory port sauce with orange segments, orange zest julienne and a touch of cognac complements this chicken. The bird is casserole-roasted to keep its breast meat moist. 1 large navel orange a 1.6 kg. chicken, room temperature, giblets and excess fat removed salt and freshly ground pepper 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil 1 cup chicken broth 1 tsp. tomato paste 1 Tbsp. potato starch or cornstarch 3 Tbsp. port 2 tsp. cognac 1â„4 cup fresh orange juice, strained 1 Tbsp. red currant jelly or other red jelly (optional) a few drops of lemon juice (optional) Using a vegetable peeler, remove zest of orange in wide strips without the bitter white pith. Save one strip to put inside chicken. With a heavy, sharp knife, cut remaining zest in thin needle-like strips. Put them in a saucepan and cover with water. Boil 5 minutes. Rinse with cold water and drain. Preheat oven to 200Âº. Cut off chicken tail and wing tips. Pat chicken dry. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt and pepper. Put reserved wide orange strip inside chicken. Heat oil in heavy 4- to 5-liter oval or round enamel-lined cast-iron casserole over medium-high heat. Set chicken in casserole on its side. Cover pan with large splatter screen if desired. Brown chicken on all sides, taking about 2 or 3 minutes per side; if fat begins to turn dark brown, reduce heat to medium. Leave chicken on its back. Baste chicken with pan juices. Cover casserole and bake chicken for 40 minutes or until juices run clear when thickest part of leg is pierced with thin knife or skewer; if juices are still pink, bake a few more minutes and test again. While chicken is baking, remove pith from peeled orange. Cut orange carefully in segments, removing as much as possible of the membrane between them. Bring broth to a simmer in a small saucepan and whisk in tomato paste. Stir in orange zest strips. Whisk potato starch with 2 tablespoons water until smooth. Gradually whisk mixture into simmering sauce. Remove from heat. When chicken is done, lift it, draining its juices into casserole; transfer chicken to a platter and cover to keep it warm. Pour cooking juices into a glass measuring cup. Pour off lighter layer of fat, leaving dark juices (at bottom) behind. Return juices to casserole and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, reheat sauce in its saucepan. Add port and cognac to juices in casserole and bring to a simmer, stirring. Pour into sauce, whisking. Add orange juice and heat gently. Add jelly, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Add orange segments and heat very briefly. Remove from heat. Carve chicken at table or in kitchen. Spoon sauce with oranges over chicken. Makes 4 servings. Faye Levy's book Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home will be published in March.