Preserved lemons are a fabulous and singular ingredient used most often in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking. Unlike the way we use lemons most often in this country (utilizing the juice and/or the zest of the citrus, tossing the rinds) with preserved lemons the rind is what is used instead, having softened and essentially picked due to its long soak in a juice and salt brine. You need to rinse the lemons well before using them in recipes. You can use the pulp as well as the rind, but do note that the pulp will be quite salty, despite rinsing it in water, so add any other salt very judiciously.
I have wanted to make these for the longest time, and just never gotten around to it, simple though the recipe is. Part of it was the fact that for those who us who are fond of immediate gratification, these don’t offer much in that department. And also every time I felt like making them it was because I saw them in a recipe that I wanted to make that very instant (frequently some variation of chicken with olives and preserved lemons), and it was too frustrating to imagine waiting.
But I got over it, and in 5 minutes had a jar of lemons marinating away in the salt and juice bath, and now about 4 weeks later my preserved lemons are open for business. They last for up to 9 months, so the perseverance and patience will pay off for weeks and weeks. The flavor is still that of a lemon, but more muted, and the rind will have softened quite a bit, and have a nice gentle chewy texture. I’m so excited to use them (finally!) in that chicken dish with olives. And I plan to use the rest in pasta dishes, ceviches, grain and vegetable salads, fish dishes, roasted vegetables, on flatbread….anyway, I’m clearly excited as you can see. My first dish was a salmon with preserved lemons and green olives (recipe coming), and then I made broccoli rabe with preserved lemons (recipe also on its way) and fell completely and totally in love…stay tuned, there will be more to this story.
- 10 lemons
- ½ cup kosher salt
- Additional ½ cup or so freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Sterilized jar, just large enough to hold the lemons
1. Cut the lemons lengthwise into quarters, but stop before the quarters are completely separate, so the lemon holds together at the bottom. Generously salt the insides of the lemons and then reform them into lemon shape. Sprinkle some salt in the bottom of the sterilized jar, and pack in the lemons, pressing them down as you go to release some of the juice, and sprinkling salt in between the layers of lemon. Pour in the remaining ½ cup lemon juice; there should be enough liquid to completely cover the lemons. Make sure there is a little headroom between the top of the liquid and lemons and the lid of the jar. Seal the jar.
2. Let sit at room temperature for three days, and give the jar a shake or two each day to redistribute the salt and liquid around the lemons, or flip the jar over every day. Place the jar in the fridge for at least three weeks, and preferably four for the best flavor. Give the jar a shake every couple of days as you think of it.
3. When you are ready to use the lemons, pull one out of the jar, give it a thorough rinse in cold water, then remove the seeds, and mince or sliver up the rind to use in a recipe. Again, you can also use the flesh if you like, though it will remain a bit salty, despite the rinsing.
Meyer lemons are great for preserving if you can find them, as they have thinner skins, and less of the bitter white pith than regular lemons, but either will work.
Some cooks also like to layer in spices to the brining mixture, such as cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cardamom, cloves, vanilla beans and peppercorns. Make one batch plain, then see how you want to experiment.