Friday, May 21, 2010

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are something I had heard and read about. I wanted to try them, but never really got around to it until now.

They're supposed to be essential for Moroccan and North African cuisine, but anything lemon is fine by me.
They can be used in many things: tangines, cous cous, with lamb, chicken, fish, vegetarian dishes, with a vinaigrette, in a sauce, in salad, juices and pulp with a marinade...

I think some would be great finely diced and stirred into a basic risotto, or basmati rice or whisked in with a little olive oil and spooned over asparagus.

I looked at several recipes and things look pretty much the same recipe-wise.
It's easy: lemons, salt, and a jar.

When pickled, you can use the whole lemon (or whatever parts you choose)- just chop it up and mix it in to whatever you're making... but I have seen that most recipes call for you to rise them of excess salt before using.

This is what they looked like after a month:

I know, not gorgeous.

Finely diced and mashed lemon.

You will want to use smaller lemons (the huge ones usually have a thick pith) which are heavy for their size (hopefully they have a lot of juice).

I used a 1 1/2 L jar for this and was able to accommodate 12 lemons (plus a bay leaf, 5 peppercorns, and a cinnamon stick). They are easier to pack into the jar if you soften them by rolling them on the counter a bit (before cutting them, of course). When placing them into the jar, don't be shy about squishing them so they all fit and will release juice. You want the salty juice to cover all the lemons. Of course, you do not have to use a full recipe- just choose an appropriate-sized jar for the number of lemons you would like to preserve.

Preserved Lemons

12 lemons (you will probably need a few more for juice)
kosher salt
(optional spices: any combination of a cinnamon stick, a bay leaf, a few black peppercorns, a few coriander seeds, a few cloves, a small dried chile)

Pour 1 T kosher salt in the bottom of a glass jar.
Cut off a little of each of the ends of the lemons and then cut lemons from one end to the other in an "X" shape (over a plate so you don't lose any juice), but leave it whole and connected at the far end by about an inch (it should look like a flower with 4 petals). Pack each cut lemon with at least 1 T salt and reshape.

Place/pack lemons in jar and sprinkle salt between layers. Squeeze layers down so that lemons are packed and juice is extracted. In the end you want the lemons to be submerged in salty lemon juice. If they are not, add extra lemon juice, but leave a little air space between lemon juice and the top of the jar.

Leave the jar on the counter at room temperature and shake daily for a month. You may have to open the jar and stir a bit and re-submerge some of the lemons from time to time. If you can, occasionally let jar sit upside-down (make sure the seal is tight!). When the lemons are soft and the insides jammy, the lemons are done. Refrigerate and use as needed.

* Before refrigerating I poured a layer of olive oil over the top to help protect it.
They should last a year, refrigerated. Make sure when stirring (and whenever you take a lemon from the jar) to use a very clean utensil.

While searching for other recipes that used preserved lemons I found this one for Spicy Crab Spaghettini with Preserved Lemons... and I'll probably have to make it for dinner some night. However, I was reminded by someone that it might not be such a great idea to eat crab right now with oil spill issues. Lobster would be ok too, right? Shrimp?

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