Preserved lemons, sold loose in the souks, or markets, are one of the indispensable ingredients of Moroccan cooking used in fragrant lamb and vegetables tagines, recipes for chicken with lemons and olives, and salads. Their unique pickled taste and special silken texture cannot be duplicated with fresh lemon or lime juice, despite what some food writers have said. In Morocco they are made with a mixture of fragrant-skinned doqq and tart boussera lemons, but I have had excellent luck with American lemons from Florida and California . If available, use Meyer lemons.
The important thing in preserving lemons is to be certain they are completely covered with salted lemon juice. With my recipe you can use the lemon juice over and over again. (As a matter of fact, I keep a jar of used pickling juice in the kitchen, and when I make Bloody Marys or salad dressings and have a half lemon left over, I toss it into the jar and let it marinate with the rest.) Sometimes you will see a sort of lacy, white substance clinging to preserved lemons in their jar; it is perfectly harmless, but should be rinsed off for aesthetic reasons just before the lemons are used. Preserved lemons are rinsed, in any case, to rid them of their salty taste. Cook with the thick peels; marinate with the pulp, if desired. Thin-skinned lemon peels are best as a garnish.
If using lemons with a thick peel, soften it by soaking in lukewarm water for 3 days, changing the water daily.—Paula Wolfert
1/4 cup salt, more if desired
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, if necessary
1. Quarter the lemons starting at the top to within 1/2-inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, and then reshape the fruit. Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of a sterilized one-pint mason jar.
2. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt, and lemon juice, if needed. Press down the lemons to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. (If the juice released from the squashed fruit does not cover them, add freshly squeezed lemon juice — not chemically produced lemon juice or water.) Leave some air space at the top of the jar before sealing.
3. Let the lemons ripen for 30 days in a warm place, shaking the jar often to distribute the salt and juice.
4. To use, rinse the lemons as needed under running water, removing and discarding the pulp, if desired.
Note: There is no need to refrigerate after opening. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and the pickling juice can be used two or three times over the course of a year.
One caveat: Don’t put your fingers into the brine. Use a wooden spoon to remove lemons as needed.
Recipe © 1973 Paula Wolfert. All rights reserved.