Preserved lemons are easy to make at home and can add a bright and unique flavor to a variety of dishes.
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Preserved lemons, also known as “lemon pickles,” are lemons fermented in a mixture of their own juices and salt to help preserve them well past their peak season. In an age where fresh fruits are available year-round, you may wonder why it’s worth going through the trouble. The answer is simple: Preserved lemons are easy to make, remain shelf-stable for up to a year, and introduce a novel, exotic flavor profile that you can add to almost any dish.
It was during my years as a personal chef that I came across these multifaceted gems while scouring cookbooks in search of unique flavors. Years later, preserved lemons continue to be a staple in my home.
The great thing about the exhilarating flavor of lemons is that they’re almost universal in their application possibilities. Don’t limit yourself to the few recipes that I’ve provided. Rather, try sprinkling preserved lemons into a few of your favorite dishes; you may be surprised at how well the bright taste accompanies a number of diverse flavors.
Photo by Adobe Stock/qwartm
A few other ways I enjoy using preserved lemons include mixing them into chicken and tuna salads, using them as a topping on Cobb and Caesar salads, and using delicate slices as garnishes on cocktails. More adventurous palates may even enjoy preserved lemons on ice cream drizzled with honey. The possibilities are endless!
How to Make Preserved Lemons
Artisanal preserved lemons can be pricey, so follow the instructions below to make your own simple lemon pickles for year-round enjoyment. Take note that preserving lemons does mellow the citrus bite ever so slightly.
Yield: 1 quart.
- 8 Meyer lemons
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup salt, divided
Optional Spice Mixture:
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cloves
- 5 to 6 coriander seeds
- 3 to 4 black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- Sterilize a quart-sized canning jar by giving it a quick bath in boiling water. When finished, set it aside.
- Slice off the ends of each lemon, and then cut an “X” into each lemon’s body, leaving about ½ inch of lemon still connected at the bottom.
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the bottom of the canning jar, and then add one teaspoon of salt into the center “X” of 1 of the lemons. Place the salted lemon in the jar.
- Repeat this process with each lemon until the jar is half-full.
- If you’re going to use the optional spices, add them to the jar at this point.
- Finish salting and adding the rest of the lemons to the jar.
- When the jar is full, add another teaspoon of salt on top of the lemons, and then push the lemons down with a wooden spoon, squeezing out as much juice as possible. Make sure the jar is completely full of submerged lemons; it’s important that the lemons are completely covered in lemon juice, so squeeze in the juice of more lemons if need be (never use water).
- Cap with a lid to keep air out, and give the jar a good shake to distribute the spices. You’ll want to shake the jar every few days to distribute the salt and spices.
- Let ferment in a cool, dark location, such as a root cellar or basement, for 4 to 6 weeks.
Photo by Adobe Stock/qwartm
✽ Store preserved lemons in the refrigerator or in a cool, dry location for up to a year. To use, simply grab one and rinse off the salt. Some people prefer to remove the peel, but I see no need; I chop them up and use them in their entirety. Even after you rinse them, preserved lemons will bring some salty flavor to the table, so be careful about adding additional salt to your meal.
Jake Lasorsa was a personal chef for four years. During that time, he developed skills for flavor combinations and recipe creation. Jake and his partner source as much of their produce as possible from their own garden or from local farmers and ranchers.