Preserving Lemons

preserved lemons

I first tasted preserved lemons when I went out to Ojai for a press trip out to the Sunkist lemon groves two years ago. (What a divine trip that was. Three days in Southern California in the midst of a messy Philadelphia winter.) By the time you eat a preserved lemon, it has little in common with the fruit as we know it. Strategically slit and salted, the lemons change character radically, until all you have left is a savory, tangy, yielding condiment that acts as serious flavor player.

And, as preserving projects go, this one couldn’t be easier. It’s just a matter of scrubbing, trimming, slicing and packing with salt. No boiling water baths or sterilization necessary.

Here’s how it works. You give your lemons a really good wash and then trim both ends to remove the remains of the stem and the little nub. Then slice them as if you’re cutting them into quarters, but not all the way. The goal is to have each lemon cut in four pieces but still attached to the whole. They always look a little like one of those fortune teller games we used to make in elementary school to me.

Once all your lemons are prepped, cover the bottom of the jar you’ll be using with salt (either kosher or sea salt is best). One by one, hold each lemon over the jar and spill a tablespoon of salt into the cuts. Pack them into the jar as you fill them with salt, using a bit of force to get them in if necessary. I used a 1 1/2 liter Le Parfait jar and found that it held nine lemons quite nicely. Spread some salt between each layer of lemons and make sure to top the jar off with a good pour as well.

Keep out on the counter for the first three days, giving the jar a good shake once or twice a day to help spread the salt and activate the juice production. If they aren’t producing a whole lot of juice, feel free to open the lid and press down to help things along. On the fourth day, take a good look at your lemons. They should be submerged in their own juice by this point. If they are not, top the jar off with some additional juice. Stash them in the back of the fridge for at least three weeks. After that, they should be ready to use. However, they’ll keep this way for at least six months (if not longer).

When you’re ready to use one, remove it from the jar and give it a rinse. Chop into tiny pieces and toss in salads, braises or grain dishes. I imagine it would be wonderful in this salad, in place of the braised lemon slices.

If you’ve bought or made them before, what’s your favorite way to use a preserved lemon?

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120 Responses to Preserving Lemons

  1. 51
    Samuel Dee says:

    Can I use any kind of lemons or it should be organic?

    • 51.1
      sendann says:

      Has to be Meyer lemons, not the standard thick skinned ones seen in smaller groceries and throughout the year. Meyer’s will be labeled as such at the store. Organic or not is your personal preference :).

  2. 52

    […] use Marisa’s method as a guide for salt-preserving citrus and it really is as easy as it sounds. I sterilized two quart […]

  3. 53
    Kellie says:

    I was wondering, do you put a tablespoon of salt in each of the slits in a lemon or split a tablespoon amongst the slits?

  4. 54

    […] I follow, Food in Jars, posted an article on preserved limes that referred to a previous post on preserved lemons. The article on preserved lemons had over 70 comments where people described different ways of […]

  5. 55
    Kitty Morse says:

    Hello:

    I am happy to see so many uses for my favorite condiment, preserved lemons. I give the recipe for my great grandmother’s method of preserving lemons in all my 5 Moroccan cookbooks, including Cooking at the Kasbah.

    The most important ingredient in making preserved lemons (citrons confits) is PATIENCE. Wait at least 3 or 4 weeks (with jars on a kitchen shelf) until the rind is soft enough to cut with a fork. Then you have a PRESERVE. Then, and only then, do you refrigerate the lemons. Lemons floating in water are NOT preserved, merely pickled in brine. C’est tout a fait different.

    Voila. Make lots of tagines! Bismillah,

    Kitty Morse

  6. 56
    Brian says:

    I have been wanting to try this! Do you have any idea where to find those resealable swing top jars that you used in this entry?

    B

  7. 57
    Sha Wofford says:

    I am a canner “LOVE”doing it. Makes me feel good when I get praises about my goods,
    but when it comes to cutting things and leaving them in one piece “FORGET IT”. I found a solution for it.I save all lids that will fit my canning jars so I don’t have to leave canning lids and rings on them in refrigerator. Peanut butter lids work great, put cut end of lemons or onions in lid, cut until you get to rim of lid.You now have a onion blossom or a quartered lemon in tack.Hope this helps others.

  8. 58
    Anna says:

    I just discovered Pickled Lemons by Ziyad – I don’t know how similar they might be to your recipe (they’re pickled in vinegar – much like a dill pickle), but my favorite way to eat them is right out of the jar! : )

  9. 59
    lekkercraft says:

    Just thinking about those lemons is making my mouth water. Thanks for the great suggestion!

  10. 60

    I’ve made lemon pickle with salt and oil from Julie Sahni’s seminal book. They’re heavily spiced (asafoetida!! among other things) and we eat them with curries and dhal. We’re down to the bottom of the jar now, so maybe I will think of salad dressing – that’s a good idea.

  11. 61

    […] those of you who like their citrus with a little funk, make Salt Preserved Lemons. Use them in salads, braises, stews and even salted lemonade. If you struggle with them in their […]

  12. 62
    Jena says:

    Just did this with half a dozen Meyer lemons, which I bought because I’ve only seen them at my grocery store here in BC once before, and they were a good price. Not sure what I’ll end up using them for, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.

  13. 63
    Jenny C says:

    Have a big jar of my first attempt at preserved lemons on the counter as I type. I’m curious about the variation in technique in different recipes, however. You’ve suggested leaving it out for 4 days, other recipes say leave out for 4 weeks! I guess the idea with the longer version is that there won’t be much more fermenting once you put them in the fridge. Any thoughts? Is this one of those things where it’s more about getting to the flavor you like, rather than a hard and fast technique?

  14. 64

    […] invited some friends over and started on Sunday. 8hrs of lemon love. I have preserved lemons started. It needs a few days of shaking before it’s submerged in it’s own juices and […]

  15. 65

    […] year, I came across this post when I started digging through the Food in Jars archives for inspiration. I didn’t give it […]

  16. 66

    […] And preserved lemons. (Recipe #2 from ATK’s DIY cookbook, though with small modifications a la Food in Jars) […]

  17. 67

    […] this year I’m making preserved lemons. We raise such incredible poultry and preserved lemons are a great accompaniment. (This recipe for […]

  18. 68

    […] had bought a couple bags of lemons from Trader Joe’s to preserve (here’s one way to do it) but I noticed that unfortunately mold was starting to take over a couple in the corner. I […]

  19. 69

    […] 2 Jalapeno Peppers, finely chopped (W/seeds) 2 Jalapeno Peppers finely chopped (W/O seeds) 2 tsp Preserved Lemon Rind minced 2 Cloves Garlic minced 1 Tbsp Browned Butter Sauté vegetables and lemon in butter – […]

  20. 70

    […] (5 Cups firmly packed) 1 Cup White Sugar 1/2 Cup firmly packed Brown Sugar 1/2 Cup Water 1 TBSP Preserved Lemon Rind, minced 1 tsp Fresh Grated Ginger 1/4 tsp Sea Salt 1/4 tsp Ground Black […]

  21. 71

    […] a-go myself. It’s an easy process but takes about 3 weeks until they are ready to use. I used this recipe […]

  22. 72

    […] Adapted from this recipe and Food In Jars […]

  23. 73

    Soo…we made salt-preserved lemons a couple of years ago (seriously). Obviously, we don’t go through them very quickly. Now that they are a couple of years old (and have been in a cupboard, not the fridge, most of that time), we aren’t even using them. Do you know any ways of verifying whether they are still safe to eat? I’d love to use them up, but am hesitant to do so.

    Clarification: I’m not really squeamish about “past date” food, and have been known to shave the mold off of cheese and just eat the good parts, so it’s not really an issue of it being “old” food. It’s mostly a question of whether or not there’s some nasty bacteria in there.

    • 73.1
      Marisa says:

      If they are free of mold and smell tart and briny, they should be okay to eat. With the amount of salt you add to preserved lemons and the fact that they are highly acidic, the chances of anything truly unsafe developing are extremely slim. If you’re at all uneasy about them, try incorporating them into a cooked preparation. The heat will give you extra insurance of safety.

  24. 74

    […] dark place to let the salt work its magic on them before they are done. Here’s a post from Food in Jars, giving a bit more detailed recipe for preserved […]

  25. 75

    […] like Bon Appetit and the food network website — of all which looked good — I used the Food in Jars recipe because it was the easiest and because I’ve been admiring it for a long time. Here’s the […]

  26. 76

    […] awesome link for Preserved Lemon and Thyme Compound Butter (oh man…). The lovely readers at Food in Jars suggested using Cara Cara oranges (my new addiction) instead. Once they age I will definitely be […]

  27. 77
    Jennifer says:

    Oh my deliciousness! I made these a few weeks ago and just tried them for the first time last night…I have a new favorite thing! I used chopsticks as “spacers” when I was cutting the lemons so I didn’t cut all the way through on accident. First use of my tasty preserved lemons was to dice up one wedge and mixing it with olive oil, pepper and Parmesan cheese as a sauce for ravioli. Yummy!!!

  28. 78

    […] of lemons this year I decided to try to make preserved lemons. Following a combination of a recipe (this one from Food in Jars)  and advice from friends (making sure the lemons were covered by juice at the end of day 2), I […]

  29. 79
  30. 80
    BARBARA says:

    I was given a box of I believe Meyer lemons. They are the last of the lemons on the trees for the
    season. They are soft. Can I use these for the preserved lemon recipes? Please advise.
    Thanks

  31. 81
    Heather says:

    I usually use kosher salt for almost everything including past lemon preserving, but I have a nearly full box of pickling salt, do you think using it to preserve Meyer lemons would be alright? Thanks.

  32. 82

    […] I bought my preserved lemons at a gourmet grocery store, since making them myself would have taken at least 3 weeks. However, if you’re feeling so inclined, here is a ridiculously easy recipe for preserved lemons, from Marisa at Food in Jars. […]

  33. 83
    Sarah R says:

    Hi, I’m wondering if you can give me advice on my first jar of preserved lemons. I washed my lemons, sterilized the jar etc before using. Added salt, topped with additional juice. Things weren’t quite submerged, so I topped off with more lemon juice. As they settled, there was still some on top poking out without liquid etc, so I threw in some more salt for good measure. I’m seeing a bit of, shall we say cloudiness, in the liquid and I’m wondering if that is to be expected? The lemons don’t look like an off color or spoiled, and I’m wondering if the slightly funky ‘thickness’ to the liquid is normal. I thought maybe I didn’t get enough liquid in to 100% submerge everything & that had caused it, but the more I’m reading about it I’m thinking maybe that’s exactly what is supposed to happen? I had gray sea salt on hand so that’s what I used and I’m thinking the minerals in that may be part of the appearance.

    • 83.1
      Marisa says:

      Cloudiness and some thickening of the liquid is totally normal. And certainly, the mineral content in the salt you used is also adding to the opacity. It sounds like it’s going exactly as it should!

  34. 84

    […] in the Portland area, you can buy a jar at New Seasons.  If you’d like to make it yourself, here’s a great recipe.  Just make sure you give yourself 3 weeks to wait for the lemons to be […]

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