There was a time when I considered preserved lemons pretty exotic. I recall snatching up a jar on a trip to one of my favorite Middle Eastern food stops, wrapping it carefully for the flight home. In the kitchen, I'd carefully consider each use, hoarding and coveting what essentially boiled down to whole lemons preserved in salt. And so it occurred to me: Lemons. Salt. I just happen to have those two things on hand.
The only mystery to preserved lemons is the month in which you'll excitedly await their coming out. Sitting on the counter, they only require a shake every now and then, perhaps a topping off of lemon juice if they're running low. As far as how to use these gems, consider their attributes: tart, bold, sassy, salty with a side of funk. I usually pair them with creamy-fleshed fish, shrimp, crab, chicken, lamb, root vegetables, tomatoes and herbs—though they have charmed their way into the sweet kitchen, too. You'll often find them as a component to Moroccan tagine.
You can add whichever aromatics to the mix you want. We've opted for a simple black peppercorn, fresh thyme and meyer lemon combination. I'm also inclined to experiment with different types of citrus—kumquats or limequats are next! One word of advice: go organic. Nobody wants to nibble on pesticide peels.
Makes 6 lemons
6 organic meyer lemons, washed well with water
6 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
5 black peppercorns
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
Extra fresh lemon juice, if necessary
Remove any stem buds that remain on the lemons, then set them stem-side down, pointing up and cut downward/lengthwise, stopping about 1 inch before the stem. Make a second cut, just like the first, so that the two incisions resemmble an 'x' or a paper fortune teller (remember those!)
In a clean mason jar, add 1 tablespoon of salt. Rub the remaining salt into the crevices of the cuts you made in the lemons, then reshape them. Pack the lemons, any remaining salt and the peppercorns and thyme into the jar, pressing the lemons down to release their juice. Cover and allow to sit countertop overnight.
Continue to press the lemons down the next couple of days, encouraging them to release more juice. You want the lemons to be submerged in the brine, so add additional fresh lemon juice if they're not giving off enough of their own. Allow to ripen, unrefrigerated, for 30 days. Every now and then, give them a shake. They are ready once the peels are tender. While they don't require refrigeration, I typically store mine refrigerated—they last for nearly a year. To use, rinse the lemon, scrape out the flesh (which can be used as well) and use the soft peel. I like to press the pulp through a sieve and add it to carbonated water for a salty, tart beverage.
More ways to use preserved lemons:
-Incorporate small bits of peel into tuna salad, along with finely diced red onion and green olives.
-Roast golden beets in a marinade made with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons preserved lemon juice and 1 teaspoon minced preserved lemon peel. Serve alongside sauteed beet greens and fresh farmer's cheese.
-We've been salivating over this recipe for Roasted Pepper, Tomato, and Salted Lemon Relish. Slicked onto crisp crostini or tossed with plump shrimp, yes please!
-Whip some minced peel into unsalted butter and nudge it underneath chicken skin. Roast and devour.
-One of my favorite recipes, hands-down, is Clams Chermoula. Stew fresh clams in wine, butter and the punchy herb paste until they open, then eat with abundant grilled bread to sop up the divine broth.