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).
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).
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.