What Are Preserved Lemons and How Do I Cook With Them?
Your pantry is about to get a whole lot zestier.
They say good things take time, and there is nothing that proves that sentiment true more than preserved lemons. Sure, lemons are perfectly fine to use fresh for their juice and zest, but if you want to jazz up your cooking even further, adding some preserved lemons into your pantry is never a bad idea. They can add an acidic complexity to tagines, braises, stews, dressings, pastas, and salads. Whether you've got a store-bought jar or you're ready to make your own, preserved lemons are the flavor bomb you've been missing in your cooking.
What Are Preserved Lemons?
Preserved lemons are a common ingredient in traditional Moroccan cooking, most traditionally used to add a subtle acidity and sweetness to tagines and rice dishes. So what exactly are preserved lemons? Basically, a whole lemon is quartered (or left whole) and placed in a glass jar with salt and spices (peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, etc.) for at least two weeks or up to a year (when refrigerated). Some cooks like to throw in some sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to the curing mixture. The salt cures the lemon over time, softening its peel and mellowing out its bitterness into a delightfully bright, lemony flavor. The longer the lemons cure, the less bitter they'll be.
How Do You Cook With Preserved Lemons?
While it might seem strange to eat a whole lemon (well, not the seeds, of course), it's actually quite tasty. The pith is not nearly as bitter as it is fresh, and the lemon is packed with a seriously salty punch. Tossing them into a braise or stew is an easy way to amp up the flavor. Preserved lemons play well with lamb, chicken, fish, and chickpeas, so if you need a backup ingredient that can add a complex, citrusy punch, you're definitely going to want to keep preserved lemons on hand.
Chop 'em up and toss them into a punchy salad dressing or a vegetable grain salad. Trying to add a new dimension to a sauce, spread, or dip? A few tablespoons of chopped preserved lemons can do that. Next time you're whipping up a simple pasta dish, trying sauteing some chopped preserved lemons with other aromatics (garlic, shallot, anchovies, etc.). If you've got a stew, braise, or rice dish that needs a hit of acidity to balance out the deep flavors, slide a few preserved lemons in there to counteract the richness.
How Do I Get Preserved Lemons?
When it comes to stocking up, you can opt to preserve your own lemons or head to a specialty food market for a jar of 'em. I love Mina's Preserved Lemons which are available on Amazon. If you want to make a project out of it, grab some Mason jars, and a whole lot of kosher salt, and you're only a few weeks away from the pantry ingredient you never knew you needed. When it's time to use your preserved lemons, make sure to give them a rinse under cold water to wash away any excess salt. Also, don't be afraid to liven up the curing solution with your favorite whole seeds and spices, a handful of sugar, and some fresh lemon juice. Some cooks like to add a bit of olive oil to their curing mixture, but it's not necessary. They'll need a few weeks before they're ready to use, but I can wholeheartedly promise you that they're 100% worth the wait.