Moroccan Preserved Lemons By Jen Sommerness
Preserved lemons are something I have on hand at all times. They are one of those ingredients that I have come to expect be there when I open the doors of my refrigerator, ready and waiting to be added as the perfect little something to many dishes I love to make. When I find I have run out, it is bit unnerving, similar to finding you are out of vanilla in the middle of making chocolate chip cookies.
Although these days you can run out and get them the moment you need them from many specialty stores and some supermarkets, the homemade version is far superior, and so easy to make that you should just commit to making them yourself. The most difficult part to making them is being patient and waiting for them to be ready to use, as they need to cure. Like fine wine, I think you will agree after trying these that it is well worth the wait.
I am posting about preserved lemons now, so when I write in the future about all of the amazingly fabulous foods that use preserved lemons as an ingredient, you will be all set to dive right in without hesitation.
Preserved lemons are near sacred in some cultures. How they are made, with what ingredients you use, and the timing before eating them vary from place to place, or home to home. I have tried many versions of them, some with oil, others with herbs, all with the freshest lemons that can be found, which has been a lot easier for me recently, since moving to California and having very prolific lemon trees in my back yard. Any lemon from the market will do, just make sure they are the freshest you can find.
I have made the recipes from the likes of Thomas Keller, Mourad Lahlou, Ana Sortun, and Chillie Basan, and have settled, for now, on this one. Make them today, and then come back to see what fantastic ways you can use them…as part of a relish for grilled meats, tossed in salads, or slow roasted tagines and stews with olives and fresh herbs….yum…I am getting awfully hungry just thinking about it!
For One Quart of Lemons:
Approximately 6 lemons for preserving
Approximately 6 more lemons for juicing, or enough to make 1/2 cup to 1 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup Kosher salt
One quart wide-mouthed jar, sterilized in boiling water or run through the dishwasher
Preserve the Lemons:
Scrub the lemons you will be preserving with a vegetable brush, under cold running water then dry them thoroughly.
Pour salt into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the lemons you are preserving from the tip, as if you are cutting it in half lengthwise. Stop cutting about 1/2 inch short of cutting all the way through the stem. Make a perpendicular cut, again stopping 1/2 inch short of the stem, so the lemon is quartered, but still intact.
Holding the lemon over the bowl, spread the four quarters and pack in as much salt as you can, allowing excess salt to go into the bowl. Place salted lemon into the jar, and repeat with remaining lemons, cutting them one at a time as you place them into the jar. You will need to squash the lemons into the jar, and if there isn’t enough space for all of the lemons, save the ones that don’t fit for the next day, cutting them immediately before putting them into the jar. After a day, the lemons will soften, and there will be room to squeeze the remaining lemons into the jar.
Put the lid on the jar, and leave on the counter overnight. The next day, the lemons will have softened and released some of their juices. Using clean hands or a spoon, press them down and add any remaining lemons.
Juice the remaining lemons, a few at a time, pouring the juice as you go into the jar, until the jar is filled to the brim, and the lemons are submerged.
Put the lid back on the jar and place the jar in a cupboard or pantry, not the refrigerator, for the next week. Turn the jar upside down and shake gently once every day or so, to distribute the salt and juice evenly throughout the jar. Add more lemon juice if the lemons are no longer submerged.
After the week has passed, you can place the jar in the refrigerator, or leave it in the pantry or cupboard. Once you open the jar and use some of the lemons, add a 1/8 inch layer of olive oil and either refrigerate or leave in the pantry or cupboard. They can be used for the next 6 months, but will continue to soften as they age. If they develop a white film, or the lemons turn a slight brown color – that is totally fine. Wipe the white film off before using. The browning that may occur is oxidation, and it does not affect the flavor of the lemons.