When I first began making preserved lemons, I exclusively made them for tagines. But quickly I discovered that their subtle tartness enhanced a much wider variety of recipes than I had previously thought. The addition of preserved lemons reinvented my hummus, lemon aioli, fish tacos, salad dressings and more, so now I always keep a jar of it in the refrigerator.
I have a good friend, Lina (okay, so Lina is actually the good friend of my son, Tyler, but when she visited us last summer I quickly realized how special she was so I jockeyed myself into their friendship), whose parents are both Moroccan. Because preserved lemon plays such a major role in Moroccan cuisine, Lina and I naturally fell to discussing this delicacy soon after we met for the first time. As it turns out, Lina's mom calls them pickled lemons instead. This makes a lot of sense because the lemons are stored in a saltwater solution wherein the rinds become not only edible, but delicious as well. So while most recipes recommend keeping the rinds, they also oddly recommend discarding the pulp. This is strange because I really like the pulp. For a while I was conflicted, until I put the question to Lina. I asked her, "What does your family do, keep or discard the pulp?" She didn't even pause to think about it. "We use the whole lemon!" I've been using the whole lemon ever since.
Traditionally, preserved lemons are made with regular lemons., but I prefer to use Meyer lemons because their rinds are thinner and less bitter. The Meyer lemon is a lemon-orange hybrid in season between November and April, so now is a great time to start preserving them. It's no big deal if you aren't able to find Meyer lemons, but try to use the smallest and thinnest skinned lemons you can.
Preserved (or Pickled) Lemons
The lemons are pickled with a lot of salt so rinse them well before using.
- 14-16 Meyer lemons (approximately 3.5 lbs)
- kosher salt (approximately ½ cup) - table salt should NOT be substituted
Scrub and dry the lemons. Cut 4 of the lemons into quarters while leaving one end intact so that you can open and close them for salting purposes. Rub the interior wedges of each lemon with about 1 tablespoon of salt, then return each lemon to its original shape. Spread 1-2 tablespoons of salt onto the bottom of a sterile glass jar, then layer the lemons on top. The jar should have a non-reactive lid (i.e., my jar has a hinged clamp-lid), and its size should correspond to the size of the lemons. Press the lemons tightly together, then top them with 2 tablespoons of salt. Squeeze the juice out of the remaining lemons and into the jar. The juice should completely cover the lemons. You can supplement the Meyer lemon juice with regular freshly squeezed lemon juice.
I usually leave the jar on the counter for a week, during which time I periodically and gently shake it. After a week has elapsed, I move the jar to the refrigerator for three weeks more. Keep in mind that you will probably need to push the lemons down again, and that you will possibly need to add more lemon juice so that the fruit remains covered. As the lemons release pectin, expect the liquid in the jar to become syrupy. It is perfectly fine to leave the pickled lemons in the refrigerator for a year (or longer). Remove, rinse, and chop a lemon quarter when you are ready to use.