February may be bleak, but in this dark, dank, and often desolate month we see sunny citrus take its time in the spotlight. In the preserved lemon we are able to see a glimpse of heaven in the shadows of the night.
One of the most brilliant ideas ever created by ancient man was the use of salt to preserve foods that would be useful or necessary when the season had passed. In this wintry time, I wanted to take my little solar flare and put it in a jar for any time I needed a burst of color. So, for this month’s Food in Jars Canning Mastery Challenge, I crafted Salt Preserved Lemon.
Preserved lemons are most frequently known for their use in Northern Africa, specifically in Moroccan Tagine dishes. Cooked in a conical clay vessel (the tagine) the meats, vegetables, fish and spices are cooked with the preserved lemon, imparting a distinct aroma and flavor that is unique and incomparable. The preserved lemon shows up in East Asian cooking as well, but the only other way I have tried it is in its Indian pickle form.
Do not think, however, you are limited in the application of preserved lemon to Moroccan food. A few weeks ago, at Restaurant Week in Alexandria, VA, I had a sublime homemade pasta with bacon lardons, lemon confit, parmesan and (I think) asparagus. Though confit is a slightly different lemon preserved in fat or oil, it would work all the same. Sliced up papery thin, this delicate addition would work with smashed minty peas and ricotta on toast, sauteed greens or in a tomato-cucumber salad. Ottolenghi is an example of a wonderful chef who uses them with fresh fish, among other applications. His recipes are worth the cookbook.
How do you use them? Just rinse off the salt, remove the pulp and use the rind as you please.
Since there are so many varieties of lemons, if you wish to get as close to the variety preserved in Morocco, go with the Meyer Lemon. They have a thinner skin, can be found in the U.S., and are a bit sweeter.
If you are looking for any easy ferment that anyone can do; look no further.
- 1 pound organic meyer lemons +2 additional
- 1 tsp sea salt per lemon +1 tsp
- Sterilize a clean glass wide mouth quart jar.
- Slice both the top of the lemon off where the fruit connects to the tree. There is usually a dry end here.
- Make two cuts in each lemon, quartering the lemon almost all the way through but making sure each quarter is still connected.
- Squeeze each lemon into the jar, releasing most of the juice. Place a tsp of salt into the center of the lemon, place back together and put it in the jar. Repeat with each lemon.
- When finished, sprinkle another tsp on top of lemons and smash the lemons down with a wooden spoon, releasing as much juice as possible.
- Juice the additional lemons until the lemons in the jar are completely cover in juice and it reaches the top of the jar. This is important. Place a lid on top, leaving as little air as possible. A good seal help keep out molds.
- Shake once every few days to distribute salt. Leave to ferment for at least a month. At this point, place in the refrigerator or in a cool, dry location. They are ready for use but may be matured and used throughout the year.
Books to help you with cuisines that lend themselves to using preserved lemons: