If you love Moroccan food, then you’ve probably had preserved lemons. Although you might not have known that they were in a dish, you noticed a delightfully sharp and salty, sour, but also almost sweet, flavor – that was preserved lemon. Here are 2 Moroccan chicken recipes that I did with my friend, MarocMama using preserved lemons, one as a guest post on her blog and the other on this blog with her guidance.
Preserved lemons add zest (pardon the pun) to other dishes too. They are wonderful cut into small pieces and sprinkled in sautéed vegetable or rice dishes, or on fish, poultry, and lamb, even if the dish is not Moroccan in origin or influence.
Kept in the jar you made them in, preserved lemons will last for months, maybe as long as a year. Some people sterilize their jars and then keep theirs in a cool place, unrefrigerated, but I just use a clean jar and keep mine tucked away in the refrigerator.
You needn’t hunt them down in stores or pay high prices for preserved lemons, because they are simple and inexpensive to make at home. All you need are lemons, salt, a few pieces of ordinary equipment, a tight-fitting jar, and patience. You can add a few spices, but they are also excellent made with just salt. Patience is key because the preserving process takes about a month. You don’t have to tend them during that time, but this is not a last minute operation.
Last time I made a batch without spices, using David Lebovitz’s directions. This time I decided to check 7 different versions and the bottom line is that, with 2 outliers, 5 of the versions were pretty similar. You’ll find links to all 7 at the end of the post.
This time I did a mash-up of the David Lebovitz and Paula Wolfert techniques, and I used spices.
Yield – Approximately 8 preserved lemons Cost – About $6
- 10 -12 lemons, unwaxed and preferably organic
- About ½ cup of coarse sea salt or kosher salt (not table salt)
- 1-2 cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves, 12 coriander seeds, 2 bay leaves – optional
- Vegetable brush or unused toothbrush
- Cutting board
- Large pot (optional)
- A 1-quart or 1-liter canning or storage jar with a tight fitting lid
- Tongs or a narrow spoon (to press the lemons into the jar and extract the juice)
- If the lemons have knobs on top, pull them out. I did this easily with my fingers. If you have difficulty, use a butter knife or the prong of a fork.
- Wash the lemons. Use a vegetable brush (or unused toothbrush) to make sure all the skin is well scrubbed. Dry them with a clean dishtowel or paper towel.
- Wash and dry the jar and lid. You don’t have to sterilize them for this recipe, because the lemons will be refrigerated, but make sure they are well cleaned and completely dry.
- [Optional step] – In order to make the lemon juice flow out of the cut lemons more easily, boil the lemons for 3 minutes. The upside of doing this is you don’t have to press the lemons quite as much when you squish them into the jar. The downside is that the lemons are messier to cut because the juice flows more easily.
- One lemon at a time, cut off the tip of the other end and make a slit about ¾ of the way down the lemon. Then cut each half again in half, but only ¾ of the way down the lemon, so that you end up with four sections at the top that are still connected at the bottom. Cut each lemon, fill it with 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt or kosher salt and place it in the jar. I used coarse sea salt, which has larger grains than kosher salt. Do not use table salt, which is too fine-grained.
- After you have put in a few lemons, add the spices if you are using them.
- Continue filling the jar with lemons until it is full, pushing them down until the lemons are tightly packed. Leave just a small amount of air left at the top of the jar when it is closed. I used 8 lemons. How many you use will obviously depend on their size.
- If the lemons are not already covered with juice, add more fresh lemon juice squeezed from other lemons until the lemons are completely covered. I used 2 ½ more lemons for juice, so a total of 10½ lemons to fill a 1-liter jar. Don’t obsess about getting the seeds out of the jar; the juice is just for preserving. Even if you want to use a bit of the salty juice later, you can strain out any seeds before doing so.
- Leave the jar in a cool, dark place for 1 week. Every 2 days or so, turn the jar up and down. Also, press the lemons down and add more juice if the lemons come up out of the liquid.
- At the end of the week, put the jar in the refrigerator. At the end of 4 more weeks or so, the lemons are preserved and ready to use.
Before using a lemon, after plucking it out of the jar, rinse it well to take off most of the salt. I typically peel the lemon and use just the rind, but you can use the juice and pulp too.
This recipe is easily halved for a 1-pint jar, using about 5-6 lemons. Or if you like to experiment, do two 1-pint jars, one with spices and one without.
The 7 versions of preserved lemons that I consulted:
- Mark Bittman – A quick version that I’m not enthralled with.
- Melissa Clark – Uses almost double the salt that many other recipes suggest.
- David Lebovitz – Simple and it works for me.
- Philip Krajeck – Interesting use of brine with water instead of just salt.
- Moroccan Food on About.com – Doesn’t specify how much salt.
- Claudia Roden, adapted by T. Susan Chang – Simple and perfectly reasonable
- Paula Wolfert – Wolfert is an amazing authority on Moroccan food. Her version uses a sterile jar so no refrigeration is required.