|Moroccan Preserved Lemons|
There’s a cure for everything and when it comes to food, it usually involves salt and sometimes, sugar. A few months ago, after a go at curing bacon and successfully getting a sourdough starter up and running, I had fallen smack into the grip of a ‘preservation bug’ and started looking around for my next project.
It was right around that time that Mr. B returned from Sacramento with over 20 pounds of Myer lemons (here’s a recipe for lemon curd) and I decided to venture into territory that for me, was completely uncharted. I decided that I was going to try my luck by making a batch of Moroccan Preserved Lemons. Now, don’t ask me why I decided on this, because truthfully, I can’t tell you. It’s not that I’ve had the experience of eating preserved lemons on a regular basis—actually, I never have—but, every time I would come across a reference for them, I was intrigued.
Using salt to preserve food goes back to the dawn of civilization. It was how man kept food from spoiling and in some cultures, it’s still a prevalent method of keeping a larder stocked with enough food to make it through a long winter (think of the Eskimo people with salmon and caribou). Salt keeps microbial bacteria from developing, or rather, I should say it inhibits the growth of bacteria, for as strange as it seems that anything could survive in a dominant saline environment, there is also a strain of bacteria that can thrive in a salty brine, but, as long as the brine is over a certain percentage of saline to water, it keeps that strain of bacteria at bay.
Preserved lemons are easy to make, but there are a number of steps to follow and then there is a rather long period of preservation time. In fact, it was only the other day, that I opened the jar and transferred them to a smaller vessel and tucked them in the back of the refrigerator.
I haven’t gotten around to using them yet, but I did just read an article by David Lebowitz where he discussed the value of using preserved lemons to elevate the flavor of a dish. Two of his suggestions were to use the finely chopped rind (you discard the pulp) in a vegetable dish (one of his suggestions was carrots with cumin and preserved lemon), and the second, to smash or process the rind with butter and use this compound butter as a topping for fish or chicken.
I plan to play around with my lemons this weekend. Depending on how they taste, I’m thinking of trying to take them into the confectionary realm and play with the juxtaposition of sweet and salty.
12 medium lemons, scrubbed and dried, cut into 4 quarters, but not cut though (quarters are attached like a 4-point star)
boxes upon boxes of Kosher salt
fresh squeezed lemon juice to cover lemons (I used about 14 cups of lemon juice)
bay leaves, cloves, cardamon pods, cinnamon sticks—you could even use a vanilla bean
1 large, sterilized jar, completely dry*
1. Spread open the lemons and generously pack with salt. As each lemon is salted, place into the sterilized jar; repeat with remaining lemons, packing the fruits tightly together.
2. Push a few bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves and cardamon pods around and between the lemons.
3. Pour Kosher salt into jar, tipping the jar to fill every crevice, nook and cranny; the lemons should be completely packed in the salt.
4. Pour the lemon juice in to completely cover the lemons; using a long skewer or a chopstick, poke a few holes into the salt so the lemon juice can get into the mix.
5. Store the jar in a dark, cool room for several months, until lemons look bright and salt has displaced and moved to the top of the jar, locking the lemons beneath the surface.
6. Using tongs, remove lemons from brine and pack into clean jars. Strain brine and pour brine over lemons.
7. Store in the refrigerator; keeps for 6-8 months.
*Dry jar in a 175º over by placing jar upside down on the rack.