Not so long ago, I threw an impromptu dinner party and Murphy’s Law was the guest of honor. It all began when I flipped open a random cookbook to a random page and came up with a seemingly simple Moroccan chicken dish. I jotted down a short list of ingredients and dashed off to a doomed grocery shopping experience. The meat counter was out of chicken (this has happened to me before, oddly enough, at KFC) and the clerks had never heard of preserved lemons. Several stores latter, I had found a chicken but was still lacking lemons.
“Not to worry,” I thought. I’d just create my own preserved lemons to substitute. I quickly consulted Google and trusted the first recipe for ‘preserved lemons on the fly’ that I found. Had I previously tasted or made preserved lemons in my life, I would have immediately known to disregard my Internet findings. But I hadn’t, so I didn’t. Instead, I happily followed the directions to sauté raw lemon peels in olive oil until slightly tender. I then haphazardly tossed them in with the rest of the dish.
When the guests arrived I began to plate the meal. The chicken was fine but the accompaniment smelled suspiciously odiferous. I tasted a spoonful and winced with disgust. Bitterness overwhelmed my mouth. The raw lemon peel had commandeered the dish with its potent pith. It was absolutely ruined. I threw out the offensive side and the dinner party turned out fine, as most gatherings with wine typically do.
Ever since then I’ve kept my eyes peeled for a jar of preserved lemons but have yet to find any. What I did find, however, were multiple recipes touting the extreme ease of preserving lemons at home. Using only lemons, salt and a little bit of time, I now have a sunny jar of preserves waiting to redeem my Moroccan mishap.
5-6 lemons (I used Meyer lemons which are slightly sweeter and have a thinner skin)
1 1/2 c kosher salt
Extra lemon juice, if needed
- Wash the lemons thoroughly
- Stem side up, cut the lemons as if you were going to cut them in quarters, but do not go all the way through. The quarters will remain attached at one end.
- Pack about a tablespoon of salt into the center of each lemon.
- Sprinkle some salt in the bottom of a Mason jar then pack them lemons in on top of each other, sprinkling salt between each layer.
- Once the jar is full of lemons, press down on the lemons gently to squeeze out some of the juices. Screw the lid on tight.
After a few days, the lemons should be covered with their own juices. If not, help them along by pouring in some additional lemon juice to cover. Wait at least 3-4 weeks before using the lemons.