Monday, March 22, 2010

Preserved Lemons

Aren't weddings grand! Head chef got married in the weekend; the restaurant closed for the day, with all staff attending along with the happy couple's friends and family. The exchange of vows took place in a forest, the reception was in a beautifully refurbished hall; the food was fantastic, drinks flowed aplenty and a joyous time was had by all. I got pleasantly wobbly and danced like Nureyev (that's Dave Nureyev, my local plumber who has this unfortunate dance-like twitch; not the famous ballet lad).

So where do preserved lemons fit into the scheme of things? Well, I had plans to finish up the last of my jam making the day after the wedding, but feeling a bit seedy (damnable 3am petrol station mince pies, no doubt), I thought it best to tackle something less odorous.

Preserving lemons in brine is a good way of storing any excess your trees produce, especially here in New Zealand where almost every second home has one growing in the front yard. An age-old practice in Morocco, it spread throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean where it commonly appears in each region's respective cuisine. The method involves pickling the fruit in a brine of lemon juice, salt and spices and is generally ready for use after about a month. Traditionally, only the rind is used, which is rinsed in water to remove the salt. The taste is very lemony and more tangy than tart (apologies to the grammar fiends).

What do you do with it? A whole host of things - it can be finely sliced, chopped or minced and thrown in salads, pasta and other farinaceous dishes, cooked with fish or chicken, whether on the barbecue, oven or in a frying pan. It lends itelf to use in marinades, sauces and infusions, as well as compound butters, vinaigrettes and dressings. I've even seen a piece of preserved lemon used as a substitute for an olive (along with a little of the brine) in a martini!

Keen? You're going to need the following:
  • Lemons - lots of lemons
  • Large glass jars & lids, sterilised (wide mouthed ones will make life easier, but they're not essential)
  • Salt (rock, plain, sea - whatever you can get your hands on)
  • Spices - bay leaves, peppercorns & cinnamon quills are traditionally used, but feel free to experiment
Down to business. Firstly, give your lemons a brief rinse and wipe to remove dust and dirt. Slice three quarters-ish of the way through the lemon one way, then repeat (see photo below). I cut my lemons over the jar so they'd catch any stray juice (mind your hands).

Open the lemon and fill generously with salt. Place the lemon in the jar.

You'll begin to notice the salt working its magic and drawing out the lemon juice, slowly filling the jar. Continue filling the lemons with salt and packing the jar with them.

Add your spices as you fill.

Once the jar is full, pop the lid on and leave overnight. In the morning, the amount of juice should have increased. Leave for a couple of days and if the lemons aren't covered in liquid, fill until covered with fresh squeezed lemon juice. Replace the lid and put your jars somewhere dark.

The lemons are ready to use once they're soft, which as I mentioned before is usually after a month. Once opened, keep the jar in the fridge to stop spoilage and it should keep for up to 6 months. There are other methods, such as freezing and cutting the lemons into rounds, so I'll hunt them down and post links to them. Now, ransack your lemon tree and give it a go!


Alessandra said...

Lovely, and great pics! I have one recipe on my sidebar 'Cuisine on the net' under Citrus recipes, FYI.


Pam said...

It sounds like a grand wedding! Lots of fun with dancing like Nureyev! ;) My son and now daughter-in-law got married Saturday and we had 2" of snow. A great day there also!

Marino said...

I'm so gonna give this a go next time i get back to Frazy to raid my Nan's tree. So when I come back to Wellington i actually HAVE lemons, sadly not many people have lemon trees in wellington CBD and I refuse to BUY them :(

btw, excuse the grammar nazi coming out of me again but did you mean "arduous" (end of second par "odorous")?

Nigel Olsen said...

Madz - No, definitely odorous - distinct odour (adj.) - the smell of sweet berries cooking in a small kitchen is a lot to deal with when you're hungover!

Pam - Excellent! I was just talking the other day how I haven't seen snow in years - a white christmas would be quite neat; the last one I had was back in '00.

Alessandra - Thank you, miss! I'll check it now.

Nicole said...

Seeing Lemons & Salt together makes me want Tequilla. That's all my mind can focus on now.

hungryandfrozen said...

Oooh, lovely. Nothing like a bit of preserving to make one feel accomplished. Unfortunately I don't have a lemon tree so they're a bit of a commodity for me!

Nigel Olsen said...

Nicole - Ha! Hey, do you like margaritas too? Find yourself a mid-range tequila, pour into a jar & fill with the best strawberris you can get your hands on (running out fast now at this time of year). Leave to infuse & voila! use in the best tasting margaritas you'll ever try.

Laura - Wow, I see them everywhere, even in public spaces round here. I could hook you up with some, so just ask this brotha should you feel the need!

pierre said...

hi nigel
nice recipe i see you add cinnamon that's avery good idea ! I admit I purchase my prserves lemon to the fresh market and use them a lot in my cooking !!
ps my plumber is named Michel jackson : I 'll ask him to dance too!

Couscous & Consciousness said...

Nice post - there's nothing quite like preserved lemons for adding a bit of zing to things. I often put bay leaves in mine when I do them, but I like your idea of adding cinnamon quills. Lemons are a bit of an extravagance here in Christchurch.

Anonymous said...

Yay mine are ready for eatingz today! Thanks for the tip about leaving overnight first, might try that next time as some air mysteriously appeared in the jar over the month. Ah well. Tagine time, I say!

Nigel Olsen said...

Sue - I have bay leaves in one of the other jars, too. The quills make for such fantastic flavour.

Pierre - Hello, young man! I see you've used them a couple of times in your posts. I need to brush up on my French, I'm so slow.

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