If you haven't yet tried preserved lemons in a dish, you must. A staple of Middle Eastern cooking, preserved lemons add an exotic and complex salty-citrus note wherever used. The first time I cooked with them was in a chicken dish of one of my favorite local chefs, Ana Sortun. Ana, who is a La Varenne Paris alum, is the chef and owner of Oleana, a truly magical restaurant just outside of Boston. In her dish, Ana slips some preserved lemon under the skin of her version of "chicken under a brick" for an awesome twist on this classic.
When I first made that dish (found in Ana's beautiful cookbook, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean ) I bought some preserved lemons at my local Whole Foods. As they are often not in stock (and they are SO EASY to make) these days I craft my own and keep a jar of home grown citrons confits (yes, that's French) in my fridge so I can use them on a whim.
In an upcoming post I'll share a great roasted chicken thigh recipe that highlights the rich flavor these lemons bring to a dish, and who knows, I may even get around to sharing Ana's "Crispy Lemon Chicken with Z'atar" one day soon as well . In addition to these chix dishes, the lemons are also great tossed with sauteed vegetables, added to a compound butter, or swirled into a quick pan sauce to pour over your favorite piece of fish.
Regardless of how you decide to use your lemons, you must first make them….here's how.
Cheers – Steve
- 8-12 smallish lemons, stems removed, washed and dried
- 8-12 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 large cinnamon stick
- 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted and cracked
- 2 small bay leaves
- 2 small, dried chilies
- enough additional lemon juice to cover lemons in the jar
- 1 - quart Ball Jar, or equivalent
- Working with a sharp knife, and from the pointed end of the lemon (not the stem end that was attached to the tree), slice through the tip of the lemon and run your knife to within about 3/4 of an inch from the stem end, do NOT fully cut through the lemon. Rotate the lemon 90 degrees and make another slice through the tip so that in the end you have an X cut deep into the lemon with the stem end remaining intact. Gently pull the lemon open with your fingers, like parting petals of a flower and spoon about a tablespoon worth of kosher salt inside. Pop the lemon into your clean Ball jar and repeat with other lemons until the jar is half full.
- add the bay, cinnamon, coriander and chilies to the jar then continue adding moire cut and salted lemons. When almost full use a cocktail muddler, or the handle of a wooden spoon to jam the lemons as tightly into the jar as possible. When no more will fit, top up the jar with some extra fresh lemon juice of needed. Place a lid on the jar and set it on your counter top overnight. For the next 3-4 days, return to the jar and press the lemons again to release more of their juices, and again, top with more fresh juice if needed.
- Set aside on your counter (out of direct sunlight) for a month to let the lemons fully preserve. After that they can be stored in your fridge for 6-9 months. To use the lemons, pull from the jar and rinse gently with cool water to remove any excess salt. Cut away the flesh (all you want is the peel), and slice, chop or puree it for inclusion in your dish.