That great big bag of lemons I was gifted had to go somewhere, and it’s always a hard decision to figure out where. Lemonade? Lemon curd? Just juice and zest and put in the freezer? This time I decided to make some preserved lemons, and then can them up.
Preserved lemons typically refers to lemons that have been salt cured. It seems like every single culture has a different way of doing this, and this version is my own take on things based on my favorite way to use them. I was first introduced to preserved lemons at a farmer’s market where a fishmonger was passing out free samples of tilapia simply skillet fried with a jar of these dumped on top. It was a revelation. Salty and bright, you eat the skin and it melts in your mouth giving you a punch of lemon flavor you can’t get any other way. By slicing the lemons before they go in the cure, I can pop the jar top and toss the lemons right into what I’m cooking, without trying to slice things that are soft and squishy.
Thoroughly clean your lemons, then slice them into rounds. Collect a bunch of canning jars and a ton of kosher salt. Sprinkle a bed of salt into each jar, stuff in a few lemon slices, pour in some more salt, top with more lemons, and continue layering until the jar is full. Screw the lid on tightly and set out on the counter for three days, giving the jar a thorough shake each day.
The lemons will dramatically reduce in size and give off their liquid. After three days, open the jars and pour the lemons into a colander, giving them a thorough rinse to get rid of the extra salt.
If you’re canning these lemons, get your jars prepared in a hot water bath. Otherwise, use a container that you can store in the fridge. Pack the lemon slices into the hot jars tightly, then fill with lemon juice or water, best a combination of the two, and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.
Preserved lemons are quite common in all kinds of middle eastern cuisines. Aside from the simple fish preparation, they’re also fantastic in salads, couscous or rice, or on top of any kind of roast meat. Basically, if you want your savory lemon flavor turned up to 11, these will change your life.