Sunday, February 12, 2012

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are all the rage these days, with cookbooks and food bloggers singing its virtues to the heavens. Used primarily in Moroccan and North African cuisine, preserved lemons have finally come to the attention of the rest of the world, and foodies everywhere are discovering that this extremely versatile ingredient is making a huge difference in their cooking. Added to soups, stews, chicken salad, grilled seafood, and generally any dish where lemon might (or might not!) make sense. I recently had some delicious artisan olives that were marinated with preserved lemon. A little goes a long way, and when you add a bit of it to your dish, you get an extra dimension of flavor that makes people go "Wow."

Preserved Lemons

You may have seen perserved lemons in gourmet grocery stores, but they're fairly pricey considering it's really nothing more than lemon in brine. However, those are ready to use immediately, whereas if you make your own you do have to wait a minimum of 3 weeks before they're ready to use. But homemade preserved lemons are just as good, cost much less (if you have a lemon tree, it's practically free), and if you make a jar (or more) of them, you'll have enough preserved lemons to last a year (at which time you'll want to make a fresh batch, anyway).

A Bowl of Meyer Lemons

Traditionally, preserved lemons are made with regular lemons. In the foodie world, Meyer lemons are popular because they're thinner skinned and sweeter. The peel (with pith) is considered the desired end product, but many people use the flesh as well, particularly in soups and stews where it'll just disappear. The longer they've been preserved the saltier they are, so watch how much salt you add to the dish when using preserved lemons -- always taste!

There's no real recipe to making these beauties. Sterilize a glass jar by running it through the dishwasher (with your other dishes, of course, no need to waste that much water on one jar!) or boiling it, completely immersed in water, for 10 minutes. Quarter your lemons, but don't cut all the way through -- keep them attached at the stem. I've also seen people make one cut almost all the way through, then turn the lemon 180° and rotate it to the side 90° and make another cut there, so that it's almost like an accordion effect. Both methods are pictured here, pick the one you prefer:

Meyer Lemon Cut for Preservation

Meyer Lemon Cut for Preservation

Have a big bowl of kosher salt ready (I used coarse salt, but it doesn't need to be), enough for all your lemons. Open your lemon and stuff salt in. Open the other cuts and stuff salt in there as well.

Meyer Lemon Packed with Salt

Put the lemon in the jar. Repeat, gently but firmly smashing down the lemons in the jar as you go, releasing their juices, until you've filled the jar about 2/3-3/4 of the way. Top it off with some more salt.

Preserved Lemons

Ideally you'll have enough juice to submerge all the lemons, but you probably won't. Meyer lemons, which are what I used, are super juicy, but I still didn't have enough juice to reach the top. Many people recommend then filling the jar up the rest of the way with extra lemon juice from spare lemons, or even water, but it's not really necessary. Eventually, the lemons will release enough juice to submerge themselves (or if they don't, after the 3-week period feel free to add more lemon juice). Topping it off at the beginning aids in the fermentation process so that you're able to use them sooner, so if that's a factor feel free to do so.

Preserved Lemons

Keep your lemons in the fridge. About once a day (or more), shake your jar of lemons (making sure the lids are tightly closed first!), redistributing the brine and getting the lemons at the top in on the action.

After about 3 weeks, they'll be ready to use. Cut off as much as you need for your dish, then return the jar to the fridge. The lemons should keep for at least a year.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. In a nice jar (maybe with an old-fashioned label), this could also be a nice gift for a housewarming etc.

Jen said...

I totally agree! In fact, when I was telling a friend (one who has a lemon tree, even) about this, I said that it would make a lovely gift for her gourmand friends. :D