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?