Preserved Meyer Lemons
pitchfork diaries

April 1st.  The "I think I can, I think I can..." continues.  I think I can make it to the end of this relentless Catskill's winter.  Right now, even as I type this, one day after we were admiring deep purple crocuses at my mother's for Easter, there are wide swirls of snow flurries mocking me outside the windows over my desk.

But the garden seeds have been ordered.  Seedlings will be started shortly.  And our neon pink rhubarb stalks have just broken through the cold muddy ground.  And chives.  And oregano.  Maybe ramps next.

In the meantime, while I am fantasizing about warm weather cooking, getting to take daily advantage of vibrant fresh produce, with their bright colors and refreshing textures, I'm tucking away some other favorite produce, soon to be gone until the late fall.

Meyer lemons are just about at the end of their season, but still hanging around the produce aisles for a week or two more.  Actually what we think of as meyer lemons are not in fact meyer lemons.  They are a new, improved lemon-mandarin hybrid, after a blight attacked the trees and they were consequently banned in this country.  (David Lebovitz explains it here, along with his delightful meyer lemon curd recipe.)

Regardless, these plump apricot-colored fruit, are a true gift in the winter, running over with sweet tangerine-scented lemon juice, and equally marvelous zest.

So I am stashing some away, and already dreaming of using them in the fresh recipes of the months ahead.

Preserved lemons, most common in the cuisine of North Africa, are one of my favorite magic ingredients in my pantry.  Their effect, even just a small amount, on a huge variety of recipes is dramatic.  They provide a deep citrus flavor, also laced with a briny saltiness, that blends almost seamlessly into a dish, while at the same time lifting the whole thing up.

Typically you just eat the rind of the preserved lemon, scooping out and discarding the flesh.  However the flesh can be used in small quantities to awaken a marinade, a vinaigrette, or even a cocktail.  Finely diced pieces of the preserved lemon rind are incredible as traditionally used in spicy moroccan stews, but also try them with grilled fish, stuffed under the skin of a roast chicken, or in a compound butter.

The lemons take about a month to reach preserving maturity, and after that are ready to use and should be good for up to a year.  Perfect timing for the recipes ahead.

Preserved Meyer Lemons

6-8 Meyer Lemons (standard lemons work very well too.), scrubbed under hot water
Kosher Salt
Large, lidded, quart-sized glass jar

Thoroughly wash the jar with hot soapy water, and allow to dry.

Over a bowl, cut each lemon in quarters, lengthwise, almost to the end, but not all the way through.  Place a tablespoon of salt in the bottom of the glass jar.  Stuff one of the cut lemons with about a tablespoon of salt, prying the quarters open slightly to make sure each cut is packed with salt.  Place it in the bottom of the jar.

Repeat with the remaining lemons, adding a little salt in between the lemons themselves as well.

Pack as many lemons as you can fit in the jar, pushing them down as you go, releasing the juice.  Return any juice to the jar, that may have been released when the lemons were cut.  Finish with another tablespoon of salt at the very top.

You can optionally add a cinnamon stick, a dried chili pepper, a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, a few whole coriander seeds, or a combination.  They will add a very subtle spice to the whole jar.

Mark the jar with the date and put the lid on.  Keep it away from sunlight, on your counter, for a week.  Each day tip it over to redistribute the juices and gently press down on the fruit with a clean spoon to make sure the lemons are below the level of the juice.  If after a few days they are not submerged, add more fresh squeezed lemon juice.

After a week place the jar in a cool, dark place, like a pantry or cellar, and after a month from the date you packed the jar, the lemons will be ready to use.  Always remove the lemons from the jar with clean utensils, and they should stay good for use for up to a year.  Discard if they become off-smelling or cloudy.

One response to “Preserved Meyer Lemons”

  1. Zanthe says:

    You and I are on the same wavelength, apparently. I just made a big jar of these last week and have been dicing the rind into every salad I’ve eaten all this week. I would make a proper recipe but am now afraid of using up too quickly! They do seem to last a crazy long time, I will say. My recipe adds olive oil at the end as well, for what it’s worth.

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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