preserved lemons

preserved lemons by the james kitchen
preserved lemons, a photo by the james kitchen on Flickr.

Seems like citrus week here, well it is the season and there are plenty around at the moment.

Lemons can be preserved in lots of different ways: in salt and lemon juice, pickled in brine, boiled in brine first & conserved in olive oil, just consult any book on Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine. Preserving them in salt is the easiest method, not the fastest, but the one I prefer since the lemons basically pickle themselves in sea salt and its own juices and over time gather an intense taste of the Mediterranean Sea with a hint of Morocco (I nearly said the wafting scented air and atmosphere of a Bazaar in Fez but thought it might be a bit too much).

You might be able to buy preserved lemons, I have not found them here so far or have never bothered to look any further after my first batch turned out really great a few years ago and they are so easy and quick to produce. Preserving these gives you the instant feeling of achievement and having something exotic in stock to look forward to experiment with after the month of maturing is finally over. So, while they work on their own, there is plenty of time to think about the plethora of things you can add them to. The formerly described method for impatient or time-restricted people which reduces the wait to five days, here.

Preserved lemons are a key ingredient in a lot of Moroccan dishes such as tabbouleh (tabouli) and tagines as the wonderfully spiced Chicken with saffron, preserved lemons and green olives. Even just a tiny amount of finely chopped preserved peel added to anything like a pulse salad, vinaigrette or dip, sauce for fish, meat, poultry etc. or tomato sauce provides something of an umami quality which might not even be immediately discernable but adds another layer of flavour, depth, warmth & brightness – comparable to what anchovies do to a sauce without being fishy.


Preserved lemons
adapted from Claudia Roden’s Tamarind & Saffron

4 organic lemons
4-5 tablespoons coarse sea salt
juice of 4 more lemons


Cut 4 slits into each lemon (as if you were cutting it into wedges but do not sever the pieces), stuff salt into these openings and squeeze the lemons into a jar with a lid. Leave for 3-4 days until quite a bit of liquid has developed, then cover the lemons with more lemon juice to cover the salted fruit completely.

If you want to seal the lemons completely from any air contact, pour a thin film of olive oil on top, I never needed to do that and omit this step.

Keep in a cool, dark place for about a month when they are ready to be used. According to Claudia Roden the preserved lemons keep for about a year and are fine if any show a thin white coating, which can be just rubbed of. Most recipes determine that just the peel should be rinsed and used while the inner flesh is to be discarded; I use the whole preserved lemon.

Tip: If you have just a minimal cut on your hands, I recommend wearing gloves otherwise the salty lemon juice will sting a little…




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