Preserved lemons, sold loose in the souks, or markets, are one of the indispensable ingredients of Moroccan cooking and used in fragrant lamb and vegetable tagines as well as in recipes for chicken with olives. Their unique pickled taste and 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, before using to rid them of their salty taste. Cook with the thick peels and marinate with the pulp, if desired. Thin-skinned lemon peels are best reserved as a garnish.–Paula Wolfert
LC Thick-Skinned? Note
If your lemons are thick-skinned, notes Paula Wolfert, you can soften them by first soaking them in lukewarm water for 3 days, changing the water daily. If only that trick worked with the thick-skinned people in our lives.
Preserved Lemons Recipe
- Quick Glance
- 10 M
- 10 M
- Makes 5 preserved lemons
- 5 lemons, preferably organic
- 1/4 cup salt, more if desired
- Fresh lemon juice, if necessary
- 1. Quarter the lemons, starting at the top and slicing 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 1-pint mason jar.
- 2. Pack the lemons in the jar 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 the lemons, add enough fresh lemon juice—not chemically produced lemon juice or water—to cover.) Leave some space at the top of the jar before sealing.
- 3. Set the jars aside in a warm place and let the lemons ripen for 30 days, shaking the jar often to distribute the salt and juice. They are now ready to use. To preserve your preserved lemons, stash them at room temperature away from direct light and heat for up to a year. There is no need to refrigerate the jar of preserved lemons after opening the jar.
- 4. Use a wooden spoon to fish out a lemon as needed. Rinse the lemon under cool running water. Remove and discard the pulp, if desired. The pickling juice can also be used as a flavoring agent for soups, terrines, vinaigrettes, pan sauces, and more. Just one caveat: Don’t stick your fingers in the jar.
Pressure Cooker Preserved Lemons Variation
- Need preserved lemons in a hurry (like, say, for this North African Chicken Soup)? Forget about waiting a month with this pressure cooker variation, which yields what we like to call “pressured lemons.” Quarter 4 lemons, starting at the top and slicing to within 1/2 inch of the bottom. Toss them in your pressure cooker along with 1/2 teaspoon salt, a pinch of saffron threads, a pinch of granulated sugar, and 2 cups water. Cover the pressure cooker with its lid and seal according to manufacturer’s directions. Bring to high pressure over high heat, then adjust the heat to medium or whatever level is needed to maintain high pressure. Cook for 4 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the pressure cooker to depressurize but do not take off the lid. (The cooling process will decrease the pressure naturally, which ought to take about 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can place the pot under cold running water to release the pressure.) Once the pot has fully depressurized, remove the lid and partake of your pressured, or preserved, lemons.