Preserved Lemons

If you know me, you know my dad lives in Tangier, Morocco and I can’t believe I’ve never shared my dad recipe for preserved lemons. Lisa and I are always using preserved lemon on anything, really. These are THE ingredient that makes Moroccan cuisine what it is. A Moroccan pantry simply cannot exist without a jar of preserved lemons. Most often they are used in tajines though you will also find them in salads and fish dishes. The reason I’ve never shared a recipe is pretty simple.  I’ve never had to make the lemons.

INGREDIENTS :

  • 10 fresh lemons, – for preserving
  • 2 additional lemons, – for juicing (if needed)
  • 1 cup coarse salt, – preferably kosher

EQUIPMENT :

  • clean jar, – barely large enough to accommodate 9 or 10 compressed lemons

INSTRUCTIONS :

  • Wash and dry 7 or 8 of the lemons. Partially cut through them from top to bottom to make four attached wedges. 
  • Generously fill the crevices of the cut lemons with salt. No need to measure the salt, just use a rough tablespoon or so. 
  • Squeeze the salted lemons shut and pack them into the jar. Wedge them in as tightly as possible so they can’t move around. Some juice will be released in the process.Close the jar and set aside for a few days. The lemons will slightly soften and more juice will be released. 
  • After that time, add as many more salted lemons as will fit into the jar. (This can be repeated in a few days if room allows.) Be sure the lemons are so tight that they won’t dislodge as they soften.When the jar is as full as it can be with tightly packed lemons, add some salt to the top of the jar. If all lemons aren’t submerged in liquid, top them off with fresh lemon juice. 
  • Close the jar and place in a cupboard to cure for at least one month or as long as a year. The longer they sit, the darker and softer they’ll become.Once opened, you can store the lemons in the fridge. Rinse off excess brine before adding the preserved lemons to dishes.

Salt, Salt and More Salt

Salt is the key to making simple, unadulterated preserved lemons. You salt the lemons. The lemons release their juices. And voila—you have lemons pickling in their own juices. It’s truly that simple.

To get the pickling-preserving activity started, you need to cut the lemons into four attached wedges. Do that by slicing the lemons from top to bottom without cutting all the way through.

Pry the wedges open and generously fill each crevice with coarse kosher salt.

Pack Those Lemons Into a Jar

Transfer the salted lemons to a clean jar that’s barely large enough to hold them. Purists will insist on using a glass jar but the plastic jar I used here worked fine.

The most important factor aside from the jar’s cleanliness is size. The goal is to eventually have tightly packed lemons covered in juice.

If there’s too much room in the jar, the uppermost lemons might rise to the surface once they soften. Long term exposure to air is a no-no, so select a jar that truly requires packing and squeezing those lemons into place. That squeezing helps release some of the juice from the onset, which is a good thing.

Once the lemons are packed as tightly as possible, cover the jar and set it aside for a few days.

Add More Lemons as Room Allows

After a few days, the salted lemons will have begun to soften and macerate, creating more room in the jar.

Salt one or two new fresh lemons (or however many lemons will fit) and pack them into the jar with the others. Cover and set the jar aside for a few days, repeating the entire process until the jar is as full as it can be. This is what the jar looked like three days later. The lemons had compressed and released quite a bit of juice. I was able to squeeze in another three salted lemons.

The Waiting Game

When no more lemons can be added, cover the top layer of lemons with salt.

Make sure all lemons are tightly packed and submerged in juice. If they’re not, compress them further and add enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to cover them.

Close the jar, place it in a cupboard, and leave the lemons to cure for at least one month or for as long as a year. Thicker-skinned lemons will take longer to cure than thin-skinned varieties.

The longer preserved lemons are left to age, the more mellow in flavor, darker in color, and softer in texture they will become. This is a good thing!

Homemade Preserved Lemons

Here are the lemons seven months later. Quite dark. Very mellow. Very awesome.

Now that I’ve opened the jar, they’ll go into the fridge because I don’t want them to soften beyond this. Plus, the fridge avoids the worry of mold now that I’ll be poking into the jar occasionally.

You don’t need to age the lemons to this degree of softness. They will indeed be ready to use after just a month or two, in which case they’ll be firmer in texture and will more closely resemble the lemons in the photo at the top of the page.

Don’t worry if an oily looking layer shows up on the top of the brine. It’s perfectly normal and isn’t cause for concern unless mold is present.

Rinse the lemons before using to clean them of the brine and excess salt, but be forewarned—preserved lemons are by nature salty,  and that saltiness will be imparted to any dish calling for them. Take that into account when seasoning stews, sauces, or salads.

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