Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How to make preserved Lemons

In my quest for culinary knowledge I have been playing with culinary ideas from Morocco. For those not familiar with Moroccan cuisine, it is the cumulating influence by Morocco's interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Moroccan cuisine has been subject to Berber and Mediterranean influences.  The cooks in the royal kitchens of Fes, Meknes, Marrakech, Rabat and Tetouan created the basis for what is known as Moroccan cuisine today. Of all of the culinary ideas coming out of Morocco, preserved lemon exemplify the flavor and subtleties of Morocco’s refined culinary traditions. Mourad Lahlou, author of Mourad New Moroccan (Artisan Publishing, 2011) goes as far as saying:

“…..that preserved lemons are Morocco’s greatest culinary contribution to the world. No, I’m going all the way and say this: they’re Morocco’s’ greatest contribution to the world, period.”

I have been making and experimenting with preserved lemons in salads and marinades all summer. I feel compelled to share this treasure with you by sharing Mourad’s best all-purpose method for making preserved lemon by packing them in salt and the immersing them in lemon juice. Enjoy!

The jar

Use a 1 quart canning jar with a two piece screw-on lid or a clamp on glass lid and rubber gasket either one of them will give you a tight seal. The kind with the neck that is slightly narrower than the sides is ideal. You can sterilize the jar by boiling water or just run it through dishwasher right before you start. Either way, make sure its bone dry. 

The lemons

Using whole lemon choose firm and plump lemon. You will need twice as many as you will preserve because you’ll use half of them for juice. Just to be safe buy a few extras to ensure that your jar is packed very tightly and filled completely with juice. Before juicing, you might want to use a zester to strip off the zest (from only the lemons you’re juicing, not the ones you are preserving). Spread the zest on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and put it in freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a resalable plastic bag and you will have a ready supply of lemon zest).

The Salt

Use kosher salt because I has a clean iodine-free flavor. 

The Process

For one quart batch you will need:
  1. About 6 (141 gram) lemon for preserving
  2. About 6 more lemons for juicing or enough to make ½ to (108 grams) Kosher salt
Step 1: Scrub the 6 lemons you will be preserving with a vegetable brush under cold running water, they dry them very thoroughly. If you plan to zest the other 6 lemons, scrub them now.

Step 2: Pour the salt into a large bowl. Stand the lemon stem end down on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut down into it as though you were going to cut it in half, stopping ½ inch above the stem. Now make a perpendicular cut, again stopping short of the stem, so the lemon is quartered but still intact.

Step 3: Holding the lemon over the bowl, spread the four quarters open and pack in as much salt as you can, allowing the excess to fall back into the bowl. Don’t be shy-you’re not just salting here, you are really jamming in a solid pack of salt, up to 2 tablespoons per lemon. Put the lemon cut side up (to keep the salt from spilling out) in the jar and repeat with as many lemons as the jar will hold, pushing them down hard so they are squeezed in tightly. (If you cant fit the 6th lemon into the jar, you can add it the next day, when the lemons are softer.) Put the lid on the jar and leave it on the counter overnight. The next day the lemons will have softened. Then use a clean spoon to push them down and add another salted lemon or two if they fit. Its ok to add only a partial lemon if that is all that fits.

Step 4: Juice the remaining lemons a few at the time, pouring the juice into the jar until it is filled to the brim and the salted lemons are completely submerged. Put the lid on the jar, turning it until it’s just a finder tight (over tightening can keep air from escaping and cause the lid to buckle) or clamp it closed if that’s the kind of jar you are using. Put the jar in a dark spot, like a cupboard or pantry, not in the refrigerator. For the next few weeks, turn and shake the jar once a day to redistribute the salt that has settled to the bottom. Add more lemon juice if you notice that the lemons are no longer submerged. That’s it. If you notice some bubbling around the edge of the jar lid, don’t worry. That’s a normal part of fermentation. 

One month later….

It’s time for the big reveal. If the lemons are floating at the top of the liquid, they may have turned brown a bit and that is fine. Cut a piece of a lemon and pot it in your mouth and be ready to be amazed by the softness and subtlety of the flavors. Be ready to be wowed. 


Once you have opened your jar of preserved lemons, top off the liquid with 1/8 inch thick layer of olive oil. You can store the jar at room temperature for several months, though the lemons will continue to soften. They are at their creamiest at 3 to 4 months. 

Ideas for use:

· Olives: toss a bit of minced preserved lemon rind with olives and a splash of olive oil. Warm in a sauté pan, or serve at room temperature
· Quick Salsa Verde: Make a topping for fish, chicken, or steak tossing chopped toasted blanched almond, parsley and olive oil with minced preserved lemons
· Salads: Dice preserved lemon rind and add to salads
· Vegetables: Add diced preserved lemon ring to braining greens, carrots, broccoli, and other vegetables
· Couscous: Toss some finely minced preserved lemon rind with parsley and into couscous just before serving. 
· Vinaigrette: add the bringing liquid sparingly to vinaigrettes and dressings
· Pasta: Add diced preserved lemon rind, mild goat cheese and olive oil in cookie orzo
· Use as a base for marinades (in combination with olive oil, cumin, coriander, chili powder, ginger and saffron, great on roasted chicken).
· Drinks: try a little minced preserved lemon rind and/or brining liquid in Bloody Mary or other cocktails.
· Deserts: Add a little minced preserved lemon in small amount of ice cream or gelato.

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