May 14 2011

Preserved Lemons

By Worker Bee
48 Comments

Just as having a pantry full of preserved fruits or vegetables brings a feeling of comfort and a cheerful burst of color to your kitchen, so does having a jar of lemons preserving on your counter. Preserving lemons involves little more than cramming a bunch of lemons and salt in jar and letting it sit for a month. The end result is like a food version of lemonade: a little tart, a little sweet and pleasantly bitter.

Rather than eaten alone, preserved lemons are used as an ingredient, most often in Moroccan-inspired cooking. The intensely lemony flavor has a bit of a bite to it and is too strong to be a main ingredient; rather, preserved lemons should be thought of as an exclamation point, adding a burst of citrus flavor to finish a dish. Thin strips of preserved lemon can be added to braised meat, such as lamb, near the end of the cooking process. The lemons can be finely chopped with a shallot and parsley, mashed with olive oil or butter and spread on top of cooked seafood or chicken. They can be added to roasted vegetables, sprinkled into salads or diced and mixed with olives for an appetizer.

You can follow our simple recipe exactly and make straight preserved lemons, or you can experiment by adding different flavors to the batch. Possibilities include adding a cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, a dried chili or peppercorns.

If you’re lucky enough to have a lemon tree in your yard, this recipe is an ideal way to preserve the bounty. If you don’t live in a climate that makes growing your own lemons possible, then try to buy unwaxed, organic lemons for this recipe since you’ll be eating the lemon peel. Meyer lemons are often used because they have a smoother rind and sweeter flavor. (Meyer lemons also work well because they are smaller in size and easier to fit into a canning jar.) Other varieties of lemons can be used, but won’t get quite as soft and will have a bit more bitterness to them.

If you’ve preserved lemons before, let us know your favorite ways to use them in the kitchen!

Ingredients:


  • 6 to 8 lemons (depending on the size)
  • approximately 1/2 cup kosher salt

Equipment:

  • One 6-cup canning jar with a tight-fitting lid (sterilize in boiling water before using)

Instructions:

Thoroughly wash the lemons.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt on the bottom of the jar.

Make two intersecting slices in each lemon, separating the lemon into four quarters, without cutting all the way through the bottom. This way, the lemon opens up but remains whole because the four quarters are still attached at the base.

Sprinkle salt (about 1 tablespoon) into each cut lemon.

Pack the lemons into the jar, sprinkling a light coating of salt over each layer of lemons. Some recipes call for more than 1/2 cup of salt, so there is no harm in being generous as you sprinkle. Use a wooden spoon to push down the lemons and really cram them in. Add any additional flavorings. Put the lid on the jar.

The lemons will release some juice as you pack them in, and even more over the next 2 days. Make sure that by day two the lemons are completely covered with juice. If you need to, squeeze the juice from 1-2 fresh lemons and pour it into the jar.

We like to let the lemons sit at room temperature for 30 days, but they don’t necessarily need that long, although we recommend giving them at least 2 weeks. Shake the jar periodically to distribute the salt and juice.

After 30 days or so, remove the lemons from the liquid and rinse well to remove the salt. You can keep the liquid in the jar to start a new batch of preserved lemons.

Scrape out the pulp from each lemon slice (you can press the pulp through a mesh sieve and reserve the juice for salad dressing or marinades).

Some people store the lemon peels at room temp, but we prefer to cover them with olive oil and put them in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for at least 6 months.


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48 thoughts on “Preserved Lemons”

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  1. Looks awesome!

    So…the pulp is dumped ’cause the juice is what you’re after…then the peels are used for. When a recipe calls for lemon zest, or grated peel? Or do they just go into the eating face?

      1. Kosher salt is the same as “coarse salt”, so far as physical properties go.

        1. What the hell is “kosher” salt?
          Has some rabi prayed over it and patented it or something?

          We use nature’s rock or sea salt.

        2. Kosher salt has nothing to do with a Rabbi praying over it (kosher food either,) it’s just a flat grain of salt used to encrust meat to absorb excess blood from a cut of meat. Jews called it kosher salt because blood is considered impure and is forbidden to eat so the salt helps get most of the remaining blood out of the meat. It’s the shape of the individual salt grain not anything spiritually inherent that makes it kosher.

          For practical applications its GREAT for grilling and any cooking situation where you want a nice crust on your meat or veggies. It absorbs moisture AND seasons. the REAL salt brand makes a sea salt that is both a kosher salt AND unrefined.

    1. Never heard of these untill I started reading the PB site. I made up a quart jar about a month ago.

      I took some of the rinds and put them in a food dehydrator and then ran them thru a coffee grinder to make a lemon pepper blend. That worked decent.

      Caught a few wild catfish the other day and skinned them fresh but cats sometimes have certain odors or flavors which are not the best.

      I used a vacumn dish and took 1/4 whole preserved lemon with skin and pulp and diced it all up plus added some oil and a liberal dose of Cajun seasoning and let all that marinate over night in the vacumn dish.

      It made a great improvement upon the fish!

    2. KOSHEr or Sea salt is best…read the label …you want SALT..SODIUM CHLORIDE with no calcium or iodie ect…because the anticaking ingredients creat a cloudy martial which is not as pretty and iodine can react with some of what is in the fruit to give an off taste.

  2. We just bought a large jar of organic lemon juice from Costco! Next time we will have to buy a huge thing of fresh Lemons!

  3. Oh how I miss California! Every house in Mountain View had a lemon or orange tree growing in the front yard… Ah memories.

    This recipe will bring some of those back for me. Looks delicious!

  4. You can also use the same process for tapestries, oranges, kumquats, etc. I also use the pulp to season my dishes instead if salt. If you want to get EVEN more use, you can also use the natural brining liquid to give a lemon-flavored saltiness to a dish or soup. A little goes a long way though!

    1. I make a mean preserved salmon in the same manner.

      For a couple pounds of salmon I would use about a half cup of salt and a half cup of honey. Adding peppercorns and dill is good too.

      Then lay it between two cookie sheets and press it. Leave it out on the counter for 24 hours. The texture is similar to smoked salmon.

  5. I’ve made these for years.

    Try finely chopping some with some shaved fennel, shaved red onion, a pinch of red chile flakes, chopped garlic and extra virgin olive oil, it makes a great relish for fish, chicken or lamb.

    1. This sounds excellent. I bet a simple butter sauce with preserved lemon ribbons and thyme would be good over grilled chicken / fish and spaghetti squash.

      The only other thing I can think of to use these preserved lemons is as a substitute for olives in a martini. I’d bet the salty lemony kick would more than make up for the lack of olive brine.

  6. I just moved to Sicily and lemon trees (with grapefruit-sized lemons) are everywhere! Can’t wait to try this – thanks!

    1. We live in Naples! The Italians eat those grapefruit-sized lemons like oranges. They are naturally sweet. Enjoy the lemons and your Sicily experience!

  7. Sounds delicious. I think it’d probably make a great cocktail. I’ll have to try it out. Of course, the ramp up time (1 month) is a bit long… Small price to pay for something awesome.

  8. I started making preserved lemons several years ago for a dish I made for a Moroccan dinner party.

    I thought they added an interesting dimension to various dishes but husband always complained about a bitter taste when I included them so sadly, I don’t make preserved lemons any more.

    If I can find some organic versions of the other fruits suggested, I will try them and see how that goes.

    Ah…memories of preserved lemons. What the heck, the next batch of organic lemons I come across are going to get preserved. While not ideal, I’ll just add them at the end to my portion of food.

  9. Chicken with lemon & olives is one of my all time favorites. I’ve got some preserved lemons in the cupboard just waiting to be used 🙂

  10. I don’t live where citrus grows, but it still sounds like something to try. I love the flavor of lemon. I was wondering what are the more primal methods of preserving foods? I live in a rural area and it’s not uncommon to have 200lbs of apples or plums all at once off of the fruit trees. I’ve dried, canned, sauced, fruit leathered, jammed and pickled. I haven’t made kraut, but it’s on my list this year. Any ideas on what to do with the bounty of garden and orchard?

  11. Why not squeeze the lemons first, and then preserve the peels?

    You could pack a lot more lemon into the jar and would not have to work so hard to compress them.

    1. The thing is you really need the liquid in the lemons to be drawn out by the salt so it can make its own natural brine. If you squeeze the juice out of the lemons first, it would take a very long time for the lemons to preserve, and the acidity would not be high enough.

  12. Yum! I will be making this ASAP. I’ve been freezing halved lemons and putting them in crock pot stews, but I will have to try this. It will just be lovely sitting on the counter, too.

    Another thing I figured out I could do with lemons is infuse coconut oil and make it tasty for use in savory dishes. I warm the coconut oil in the nuker with chopped lemon peel and oregano. (Still working on getting used to the coconut taste in savory dishes.)

  13. My partner makes these. A little goes a long way in a tagine. He made a gallon and we are nowhere near the bottom of it.

  14. Just finished jarring my these…not sure
    what “added flavorings” to use; I have
    some fresh Tunisian cumin on hand and
    was tempted, but…on the first try
    would rather not make a “one month”
    error. Open to any ideas….

    ….by the way, for the “sea salt” you
    can’t beat a good coarse himalayan
    salt. Chock full of minerals, easy to
    work with, and great pink color…

    1. I was thinking that. I wonder if it makes a difference? Love Himalayan Pink Salt!

  15. Wow this looks amazing, gotta try it asap. I love sour and bitter things like lemons and even more i love lime.

  16. Yeah, I’m kinda confused about what we’re after. When you take the lemons out, there’s a jar full of juice. What can we do with the juice. Also, do we just throw out the pulp? and finally, what do we do with the peel? Eat it?

    1. The juice can be used as a salt, albeit with a lemon flavor. IT gives a nice dimension to stews, and the flavor is basically for free. The same goes for the pulp – when you are making a cous cous for example (albeit without the grains) the idea is to incorporate the pulp of the lemon with the marinade for the meat you are using. THis is one time where you are using EVERYTHING except for the seeds. In my books, that is totally money!

      1. Use it on grilled fish dishes and lightly boiled greens (spinach) with olive oil, Med-style!

  17. The consensus seems to be. Then what? (with the juice, the pulp, and the rind). Are there recipes/usage tips that will follow 30 days from the article? Will @Jason Sandeman,@shannon,@hal(cocktail recipes) post recipes?

    Should an announcer be saying…”Stay tuned cave readers, Same cave time, same cave channel…”?

  18. Mark, thank you for posting this!
    We stayed a a BnB a few months back and the owner served us home made Meyer lemon preserve marmalade with vanilla… to die for. Primal went out the window for weekend for that the little slice of heaven. At the time I had thought about trying to make it without the added sugar but then promptly forgot about it after we left.
    Now Im inspired to try again.
    Thanks!

  19. Padma Lakshmi has a BAD-ASS preserved lemon recipe that I’ve made a few times but I can’t find it now 🙁

    I used them on everything!!!

    1. Found it! These are actually brined vs lacto-preserved…

      1. Boil six whole lemons for 5 minutes, then drain and cool. (Save the water).

      2. Cut each lemon in half, toss with 1/2 cup kosher salt, and pack into a large, sterilized jar.

      3. Cover with the juice of three more lemons and add enough boiled water to fully submerge the lemons. Store at room temperature for at least a week before using.

      4. Punch up the flavor by adding dried spices, such as thyme, saffron, red chilies, or bay leaves, or wet spices like green peppercorns, to the jar. Once opened, the lemons will keep for up to a year in the refrigerator.

      Enjoy!

  20. i dont bother removing the lemons from the juice after fermentation, just let the whole thing sit as is , and use as needed. The juice is great added to whatever you want a lemony taste added to…choopped lemon rind to soups, and tangine and frittata and more.

    not complicated. I just slice mine in rounds, easier size to use for individiual cooking portions as well…

  21. I used to have a jar of these years ago I made myself. I originally used them for when I took a lot of medication as I read somewhere that it was a good remedy for nausea and morning sickness. But I started snacking on them because I’m a salt fanatic. Might make a batch of these again. Thanks!

  22. Can home made preserved lemons go bad.
    Mine are 2-3 month old, not been refridgerated buttopped up with lemon juice 2x’s. Now still cloudy & have thin white mould?? / flim on the top lemons.
    Mine also have cardomon & corriander seeds in to spice.
    Are they off???

  23. thanks for great recipes–we live in israel and limes are part of the practically manic glut of summer fruits that i love. sadly, limes come and go in a month,so pickling a batch is a brilliant way to keep them around for much longer. also, dwarf lemons would make beautiful edible garnish.

  24. Hi! I have a wonderful jar of said lemons, though, I was given it in March this year and have used some. We moved cities, and the jar was in a box, never refrigerated. Will they still be fine? Have been at room temp for a couple of months..no refridgeration. I hate to discard them, but would also hate to get ill from eating/using the luscious things.

    thanks!

  25. I make preserved lemons once a year so Im experienced with making them. I do NOT go thru the trouble (or waste) of removing anything from the preserved lemon or the jar after it has fermented as Mark suggest doing. After 30 -45 days fermenting in my summer time pantry, they go straight to my refrigerator. They will last for many years. I have some in my fridge now for over 6 years. They get better the longer they sit in the fridge and become very soft and slimy perfect for my fermented salad dressing and ethnic curries I make. I have never had a batch go bad, its very easy to make.