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Mastery Challenge February Round-up: Salt Preserving

Grace Lee’s gorgeously vivid kimchi.

February has drawn to a close and so it’s time to wrap up the second round of the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. I continue to be so honored and delighted that so many of you are going along with me on this crazy journey!

This month, we focused on preserving with salt and so many of you spent your time exploring the many options. There were 325 of you that submitted projects to the spreadsheet (down from last month’s 600-ish number, but still great). I think it’s safe to say that even more of you attempted preserved citrus, gravlax, cured eggs, soup base, herbes salées, sauerkraut, and more than reported it.

I loved seeing the positive trend in feelings about salt preserving. We only scratched the surface of a very deep food preservation tradition and I do hope that some of you keep exploring this area.

Dried Herb Salt, Herbes Salées, & Soup Base

Sauerkraut & Kimchi

Chopping collards from Brit in the South

Preserved Citrus

Photo from Cheese and Cracker Jacks

Gravlax & Cured Egg Yolks

Laurie Kane’s gorgeous beet gravlax


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How to Use Salt Preserved Citrus

Looking for ways to use the preserved lemons, limes, or oranges you made this month? Here are more than 40 ways to use salt preserved citrus to delicious effect.

Lots of you have taken a leap of faith with me this month and have made a jar of preserved lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruit for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge without really knowing what to do when them when they’re ready. In order that I’ve not led you astray, here’s a list of things that you can make with your salt preserved citrus when it’s ready.

I will say that most of these recipes do call for preserved lemons, but take heart, most will work beautifully with any preserved citrus. I’ve made note down below when I think substitutions would be particularly tasty.

From New York Times Cooking

From Epicurious

From Food52

Finally, some thoughts on using preserved citrus without a recipe. So many dishes, from simple vinaigrettes to grain salads, soups, and casseroles, can typically benefit from the addition of salt and acid. Thing of preserved citrus as a single condiment that can deliver both.

Chop the rind into tiny bits and stir it into your chicken, lentil, or bean soup. Pour a bit of the liquid off into a stew that needs brightening. Whir some of your jar into a thick puree and spoon it into hummus. Once you get to know the flavor, you’ll find that preserved citrus is endlessly useful.

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Salt Preserving for the February Mastery Challenge

It’s the first of February and that means it’s time to take on the second project in the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. This month is all about salt preserving. For the purposes of this challenge, we’re going to focus on dry brining or curing. Think salt preserved citrus, salt preserved herbs (herbes salees), gravlax, cured egg yolks, sauerkraut, infused salts, and kimchi. We’re going to stay away from meat and wet-brined ferments.

Remember that the goal of this challenge is to help you expand your skills while creating something that you’ll actually use. So choose a project or recipe that will satisfy both your own learning and help you make something delicious.

The Recipes

You don’t have to choose one of these recipes, but there’s some good stuff here. Feel free to use one or use them as a jumping off point for your own research and exploration.

Salt preserved lemons – This is an easy starting point. I make at least one batch of these every year. They add a tangy, funky bite to soups and stews. I often heap a bunch of them in the blender and puree them smooth. I dollop that puree into hummus, vinaigrettes, and other creamy spreads.

Salt preserved key limes – Some readers argued whether the fruit I used were in this project were actually key limes, but that’s what the bag said. They’re zippy and bright and worth the making.

Citrus salt – Another really simple one. Zest a bunch of lemons, limes, grapefruits, or oranges and combine them with chunky salt. Spread it out on plate or parchment-lined cookie sheet and let it air dry. Then sprinkle it over chicken, fish, dips, and roasted vegetables.

Herb salt – A variation on the citrus salt above, this expansive, wide-ranging recipe is flexible and adaptable.

Herbes salees – There’s a version of this recipe in my second book, but I learned everything I know about salt preserved herbs from Joel and Dana at Well Preserved. And so if their post was a good starting place for me, it’s a good starting place for you!

Gravlax – Quick cured and seasoned salmon that takes a few minutes to prep and just a couple days in the fridge to get good. It’s a low effort, high reward project and just the thing to make if you’re planning a dinner party or fancy brunch.

Cured egg yolks – I’ve not made these before, so I point you in the direction of Hank Shaw for instructions here. From what I hear, this relatively quick cure produces something with the flavor and depth of good cheese.

Kraut – There’s so many directions to go here. Start with a recipe that appeals and begin to explore.

Kimchi – This is my favorite approach, but it just one of many. If you decide to go in this direction, do try to stay away from the brined recipes and stick to the ones that are salted directly, as we’ll focus on wet brined foods later in the year.

Soup base – I almost always have a jar of this vegetable-heavy paste in my fridge for giving depth to soups and stews.

As always, I’ll spend the next month posting recipes and troubleshooting guides focused on this month’s topic. Alex will also have a post that will feature her project. More soon!

What to do if you can’t have salt!

I’ve had a couple people reach out with health conditions that require they avoid salt to ask about how they might participate in this month’s challenge without actually using salt. If you find yourself in this camp, I suggest you take a look at the herb salt link above. You could make a dried herb and citrus zest blend. Or perhaps a salt-free version of homemade furikake (a Japanese seasoning blend that traditionally includes toasted sesame seeds, crumbled nori and bonito flakes).

Look for projects that are in the spirit of the challenge and expand your skills. That’s what I’m looking for!



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Preserves in Action: Pureed Preserved Lemons

preserved lemons

For the last several years, one of my mid-winter traditions has been to treat myself to a box of Meyer lemons from an orchard in California. It’s my favorite way to bright dark days and ward off the gloom of January on the east coast.

When the lemons arrive, I make marmalade, jelly, dehydrated citrus slices, curd, and salt preserved lemons. It’s a joy to spend those hours squirreling away all the different lemon preserves, knowing that it will be another year before I make them again.

Cook This Now

In a typical year, I have no problem using up the things I’ve made from my box of Meyer lemons. This time though, I just didn’t manage to work through 2012’s jar of salt preserved lemons. It got scooted to the very back corner of the fridge and there it stayed, for most of the last 12 months.

I did remember that it was tucked back there. What’s more, there have even been many moments when I knew that a little dose of preserved lemons would go nicely in a dish I was making. I just couldn’t deal with the game of reverse-Tetris that it would have required to put hands on those lemons.

preserved lemons in the blender

About a week ago, on the hunt for some January dinner inspiration, I pulled my copy of Melissa Clark’s book, Cook This Now, down off the shelf. While leafing through, I spotted an absolutely brilliant idea. She suggests plucking the seeds out of a preserved lemon and then running it through a blender, in order to make an easy-to-use pulp.

Instead of having a giant jar of inaccessible lemons, I could have a very accessible (smaller) jar of preserved lemon puree. This was an idea I could get behind.

12 ounces of preserved lemon puree

Once managed to unearth the jar of lemons from behind the maple syrup, I was in business. I pulled the seeds from half my stash and plopped them into the blender. It took less than a minute in the Vitamix to work them into a very sunny paste. Now, whenever I want to add that funky, tangy, salty, tart preserved lemon flavor to a dish, all I have to do is dip a clean spoon into a jar that now lives on the door of the fridge. Preserved lemons, redeemed!

topping with olive oil

Melissa Clark recommends that you cover the puree with a generous layer of olive oil, to keep it from spoiling. A very sensible idea.

salad with preserved lemon dressing

The best thing about blending the lemons is that once you’ve scraped what you can out of the blender pitcher, you’re already halfway to a great salad dressing. Because it’s inevitable that you won’t be able to get every last bit out of the blender. Instead of surrendering and cleaning it out in the sink, add a little water, honey, and freshly ground pepper. Put the pitcher back on the blender base, run the motor on low and drizzle in a little olive oil. As soon as it develops a thick consistency, you’re done.

The finished dressing is creamy and tart, but without the throat-catching acidity that a vinegar-based dressing can have. I made a not-so-seasonal salad of halved grape tomatoes and avocado, covered it with my blender dressing and heaped it on a pile of torn lettuce. It made for a really great weekday lunch.

If you have a stash of preserved lemons tucked away in your fridge, how are you using them?


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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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