I’ve said it before, but on of the biggest thrills about living in California for this Brit is the citrus trees in my garden and in my friends’ gardens. I’m always being given bags of amazing lemons, oranges and grapefruits – for FREE! I finish nearly every dish with a squeeze of lemon. And yes some go into cocktails and some go into cakes and citrus curd. But I wanted to try making preserved lemons as another way of holding onto their flavour once the season ends.
I’m feeling sad that this will be the last year I’m living here amongst all that citrus bounty. So I want to preserve some to enjoy when I’m back in England later this year. A jar of preserved lemons makes a gorgeous gift too, so I’ll be giving some to friends in return for all the lemons they give me.
All you need is some sea salt, clean jars and lemons. Easy. I made these with my five year old son yesterday and they were a really fun way to spend half an hour on a Saturday. Maybe we’ll see some preserved lemons on sale at the lemonade stands this summer?!
How to use your preserved lemons
Preserved lemons are so easy to make and have a ton of uses. They have a more complex flavour than plain lemons. They add salt and acid as well as third, almost pickle like, flavour to anything you use them in. The most obvious dish is a Tagine – a Moroccan stew where chopped preserved lemon adds a citrusy saltiness. There are loads of other ways to use them too:
- Whizz them with olive oil, chili and garlic as a sauce for grilled fish or pasta
- Chop them into salsa
- Chop them and stir them through herb-flecked grain salads – faro, bulgur, barley all work well, as does cauliflower rice
- Chop them and stuff them under the skin of roast chicken before it is cooked
- Blend them into homemade mayo
- Chop them with coriander [cilantro] and stir them into yoghurt to serve alongside a curry
- Slice them and mix them with thinly sliced raw fennel, fresh basil and olives for a salad
- Chop them roughly and mix them with skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs and roast them with olives and smoked paprika
A word on jarsYou may as well make a few jars at once. Once you get into the rhythm of making them it is easier and quicker to make a few at once. And they will last for 2 years so there is no need to worry you’re making too many. I had some beautiful reissued vintage green Bell jars so I picked those. If you want to keep your pickles for longer than a couple of months, be sure to buy new jars so that they will seal properly. If you re-use jars, the seal won’t be airtight and the preserve is more likely to go bad. You can buy these jars through my shop.
For each 1 pint jar you’ll need:
2-3 lemons. Be sure to get organic, un-waxed lemons and scrub them well in hot water
Around 100g or a third of a cup of sea salt. No need to use your Maldon but buy a grain sea salt. Don’t use table salt
You can also add bay leaves, coriander seeds, dried chili, fennel seeds if you’d like.
1. Wash your jars and lids with hot soapy water. Rinse them then put them in your biggest pan with boiling water until they are totally submerged. Boil them for about 15 minutes to sterilize them and then leave them boiling until you are ready to use them.
3. Put your sea salt into a bowl and grab a teaspoon.
4. Get one of your jars out of the hot water (I use my metal tongs), drain out the water then put it on your cutting board. Put a teaspoon of salt in the bottom of the jar then put your lemons, a few wedges at a time into the salt and turn them so they are coated.
Put them into your jar and repeat until the jar is full.
5. Use the teaspoon or the tongs to really squish the lemons down into the jar. This will release the juice and any air and you’ll start to see the juice bubbling up to the top of the jar. You want the tops of the lemons at the top of the jar to be swimming in juice. If there isn’t enough juice, squeeze another lemon and pour that juice in.
8. Store your jar in a cupboard for a month before using. During that month you should turn the jars each day, sitting on their lid one day and their glass the next. This will help the lemon and salt brine stay evenly distributed. There should always be a layer of salt in the bottom of the jar, so add extra salt if needed. The lemons are yellowish brown when they are ready.
9. When you’re ready to use your lemons, open them and scoop out some pieces. Chop them finely. Some people don’t use the lemon flesh, just the skin, but I tend to us it all. Once they are open you’ll need to store them in the fridge, topping them up with lemon juice so the pieces stay covered.