Monday, December 3, 2012

Preserved Lemons - Christmas Gift From The Kitchen

Preserved Lemons

Never heard of preserved lemons? I'm so sorry. My mom used to buy jars of them when I was little. I don't know what she used them for, but I remember fishing them out and eating their salty, silky rinds straight up. I've always had an unadulterated love for lemon and salt. Preserved lemons are Moroccan and used in many dishes. Here in the states, people use them for most anything they can think of. I've heard the luxurious juice the lemons are packed in is especially silky, thick and prized in Bloody Mary's or for making a different kind of Dirty Martini in place of olive juice. Or why not try chopping them up in mayonnaise with capers and salt for a twist on tarter sauce? At Rioja, one of our favorite restaurants in Denver, the chef once used the rinds of preserved lemons and battered and fried them lightly and served them with a fresh aioli of some kind. It was divine, especially with the glass of grapefruit champagne I was sipping.  People throw them in chicken dishes (I was dreaming up a skillet dish of simple olive oil pan seared chicken breasts rubbed with oregano, salt and pepper, with artichokes and preserved lemons while thinking of different uses). They also mash the lemons into a paste over white fish for a special occasions. They are used plenty in various grain salads or tabbouleh dishes, as well as these six recipes, which particularly stood out to me:

1) Preserved Lemon Ice Cream
2) Israeli Couscous with Butternut Squash and Preserved Lemons
3) Preserved Lemon Cesar Salad
4) Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives
5) Fettuccine with Preserved Lemon and Roasted Garlic
6) Preserved Lemon Martini

*Something to note: When a recipe calls for "1 preserved lemon" it usually means one whole lemon, which would be four pieces in this recipe since we cut them into quarters.

Preserved Lemons

This year, I'm giving a few choice people who I know will appreciate them, this beautiful little jar of sunshine for Christmas. I've heard lemons for Christmas is kind of strange. They are yellow. They are summery, right? I beg to differ. Citrus is huge at Christmas time, and wrapped with a silvery bow I think it will make a very handsome gift. Plus, I made Homemade Limoncello as gifts a few years ago and no one seemed to mind at all. These little beauties couldn't be easier either. After a quick blanching of the whole lemons (to help soften the rinds and get the juices flowing which makes deseeding much easier) the lemons are cut into quarters and packed in jars with sea salt. You'll want to crush the lemons down forcefully to release as much juice as possible, then fill the jar with more fresh lemon juice until the lemons are about covered. Over time, the lemons will give off more juice, so leave a little room at the top. Then, all that's left to do is let them sit at room temperature, sealed, for 4 weeks until they are ready to eat. Refrigerate after opening and it'll keep for 6 months. I realize Christmas is in less than 4 weeks, but if you start this week, they'll be ready for the recipient to eat within a week after Christmas.

When you preserve a lemon, you are essentially pickling it making the whole thing edible, rind and all. In fact, some people only use the rinds and discard the insides. Some people wash them before use as well, if you don't need them as salty.

my sea salt has natural flecks of pink in it
Preserved Lemons

Preserved Lemons
adapted from David Lebovitz

Recipe can be adapted for as many lemons or jars as you want.

1) Scrub the lemons with a vegetable brush

2) Heat a large pot of water to boiling and place the lemons inside and blanch them for two minutes. Then remove the lemons and let them dry and cool for a few minutes.

3) Cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end if there's a hard piece of stem attached. Then, cut the lemon into fourths, making quarter slices, de-seeding as you go.

4) Place one tablespoon sea salt in the bottom of a sealable glass jar (like a mason jar). Pack in one lemon (or four pieces) and pour another scant tablespoon of sea salt over top. Repeat until jar is full leaving a tiny bit of room at the top. Use about a tablespoon of sea salt per lemon.

5) Press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. If need be, add extra lemon juice to the jars (remember, the lemons will give off more juice in the following days, so if they are not completely covered at this point, it is okay). Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.

6) The next day do the same, pressing lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for  2-3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid (add fresh lemon juice, if they are still not all the way covered).

7) After one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they're ready to use. Store lemons in the refrigerator after this time and they'll keep for 6 months. Rinse lemons if needed before using to remove excess salt.

To use: Remove lemons from the liquid and rinse (or not). Split in half and scrape out the pulp (some recipes you'll use the pulp. It's whatever you want). Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the tasty juice, which can be used for flavoring as well.


  1. Oh my gosh- I never knew about this. Making ASAP! xx

  2. I'm super excited about this! Do you need to process the jars at all? Any opinion on Myer vs regular lemons?

  3. Hi Deb. No need to process the jars, that's the best part! Some people do Meyer lemons, but regular lemons are traditional.

  4. Thank you! They are started and waiting for more tomorrow.

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