All winter long (and it was indeed a long winter), I meant to preserve some citrus. I had grand schemes for jars of curds and grapefruit jam, homemade marmalade if I could find some Spanish bitter oranges and jugs of blood orange juice to go in the freezer.
It is now mid-April.
The marmalade window has pretty much closed, as has any hope of freezing blood orange juice for summer cocktails. (I only found a few at a high-end greengrocer.) But there’s still time to squeeze and freeze some lime juice for summer margaritas and to put up a few jars of preserved lemons.
My pash for preserved lemons has grown exponentially since I tasted Belazu lemon verbena harissa laced with them last year. Till then, I’d only used preserved lemons as called for in recipes –and mostly recipes from Paula Wolfert’s Couscous cookbook (which is where I learned how to make preserved lemons). The flavors haunted me long after I’d polished off a little jar, and I found myself adding preserved lemons to everything I could –soups, stews (and not necessarily North African), pestos, mashed potatoes, salad dressings…
I found some big, beautiful, incredibly juicy organic Spanish lemons at my local supermarket in Cancale, and then, a few days later, found some smaller, equally beautiful, equally juicy organic California lemons at the grocery store I go to in Virginia. (Organic is key for preserved lemons since the rind is the part you mainly use once the lemons are preserved.) Then it was just a matter of quartering them, salting them, squishing them tightly into a few jars and leaving them in a sunny spot to start fermenting. In fact, the hardest part of preserving lemons is waiting the 3+ weeks it takes for them to ripen in the brine before using them.
Most preserved lemon recipes call for cutting the lemons almostinto quarters, stuffing the centers with salt, then squeezing the lemons into jars. I made them this way for many years, till I realized that actual lemon quarters—sliced all the way through—would be much more convenient when cooking (it’s rare to need a whole preserved lemon for a recipe), would be easier to pack into jars, and would release their juices more readily.
Some cooks/chefs/experts add spices to their preserved lemons, which I’m sure gives them lovely flavor. I prefer to keep them straight-up and simple so that they’re as versatile as possible.
4 to 8 organic lemons, washed and patted dry
¼ to 1/3 cup kosher salt or coarse sea salt
WASH AND DRY (sterilize if you wish) a tight-sealing 1 quart jar.
Quarter the lemons, and toss them in a large bowl with the salt.
PACK the salted lemons flesh side down into the jar, pressing down to squeeze out the juice, and sprinkling some of the salt from the bowl between each layer.
FILL the jar to the top with lemon quarters, then scrape any remaining salt on top. Add lemon juice (from extra lemons), if necessary, to fully cover the lemons.
SEAL and shake well. Leave on a sunny shelf for a week, shaking the jars occasionally to distribute the brine.
CURE the lemons in the refrigerator for another 2 weeks before using. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year in the fridge.
TO USE: Rinse the preserved lemon quarter(s), Scrape the flesh from the rind, then chop the rind and use as directed in recipes. The flesh can be used to flavor soups and stews as well, though the texture isn’t ideal for other recipes.