Preserved lemons are most often associated with Moroccan cooking, but a long tradition of preserving lemons is found across North Africa, the Middle East, as well as South and South East Asia. The process is remarkably simple. Salted lemons are placed in a preserving jar, compressed, covered with additional lemon juice, sealed, and set aside for a month or so to soften. The resulting flavor is intensely lemony, while mildly sweet sans tartness, with heavenly perfume that intoxicates the senses. It is a cooks dream! A secret ingredient that elevates any dish to the extraordinary!
You need not limit yourself to using preserved lemons in Moroccan, Middle Eastern, or Asian traditional dishes either. Apply them as you would to any dish that you might normally add a splash of lemon juice to bring it to life. You will be amazed that such a subtle slight of hand can produce a whole new perspective to cooking with lemons. A staple you will want to have on hand in your larder at all times, keeping in mind it will take a month to replenish as your cache dwindles.
Needed: a sterilized preserving jar with tight fitting lid.
- 6 fresh lemons
- crystalline sea salt (or kosher salt)
- 2 lemons, juiced as needed
Choose the freshest unblemished lemons you can find. Scrub them with a soft brush under running water.
Heat some water until hot, but not boiling. Place the scrubbed lemons in a bowl and pour the hot water over them and set aside for a day. Repeat the same process for 2 more days. This will soften the skins and make the lemons more porous for preserving, especially if the lemons are thick skinned.
Pat the lemons dry and using a sharp knife cut deep slices into the lemon lengthwise, starting just below the stem and cutting to within a quarter inch of the bottom. This will hold the lemons together for salting. Repeat, slicing the remaining three sides of the lemon and set aside. Repeat, with five more lemons, reserving 2 for juicing later.
Using your fingers press salt into the slices in the lemons generously.
Sprinkle a little salt in the bottom of the preserving jar and press 2 of the lemons into the bottom of the jar, using a wooden pestle or a wooden bean masher if you happen to have one. Press the lemons until they release their juice. Sprinkle a little salt over the lemons and add 2 more lemons on top. Press them vigorously, again until they release their juice. Sprinkle with salt and add the remaining 2 lemons and press them down into the jar. Continue pressing until the lemons are tightly packed into the jar and their juices nearly covering them.
Add enough squeezed lemon juice to completely cover the lemons. Give them one more final press, seal the jar and set aside.
For the next several days, open the jar and press the lemons down into the jar daily, redistributing the juice around the lemons. From this point on simply turn the jar upside down each day for about a month.
To use the lemons once they are well preserved, remove a lemon and cut into quarters. Remove the pulpy flesh (which can, by the way, be used to flavor soups and stews, as can the brine) and seeds. Slice the lemon skins into strips to be used in whatever applications you have in mind.
Reseal the jar and set aside for several months at room temperature. Occasionally, a white mold may appear on parts of the lemons that are not submerged in the brine. It is harmless! Just remove it should it appear.
Voila! A whole new ingredient to add to your kitchen repertoire.