Saturday, January 29, 2011

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

As crazy as it sounds, the current depths of winter are the "season" for citrus.


Locavore tendencies be damned, most of the citrus fruits come from areas where the produce season is currently peaking, and hence, the markets are just overflowing with citrus fruits.

Time then in the snowiest winter recorded to go a slipping and a sliding, and put the overflowing bounty of Meyer lemons to good use. Sadly to say, it's "use it or lose it" since you can't easily find them here in the rest of the year.

The CC bought six pounds and turned them into preserved lemons.

If you've never eaten a preserved lemon, you have missed out on one of the great joys of life. It's ancient "culinary technology" at its very best — making lemonade out of lemons, metaphorically speaking.

A preserved lemon is more about the rind of the lemon than the juice. The preserving process both intensifies the lemon-ness of the lemon, infuses it with a complex spice mixture, and brings out an intense umami from the pickling process. The final product is silky and sensual, an ethereal counterpoint to the vegetable, chicken, lamb or fish dishes that it generally accompanies.

The important word here is "generally". Good luck waiting to cook the dishes. The CC has seen hordes demolish the product straight out of the bottle like crack-candy! Add the pickling juice to a "bloody mary" and you'll thank the CC for the rest of your life.

Naturally, there's a catch. That's called pickling. It takes about a month to make after which it will pretty much last forever. Experienced picklers don't even empty the jar. They just keep adding more lemons, lemon juice and salt to the jar, and the stuff will just keep on truckin'.

If you've never pickled before, let's start with the basics. Pickling involves storing food for an extended period of time. There are only two broad ways of pickling — pickling in an acidic medium, and pickling in oil (which is a lot harder.)

The simple story is that if the medium is acidic enough, no fungus or bacteria can grow in it (except for the highly beneficial and omnipresent lactobacillus.)

Pickling requires only one real skill. That's called obsessively washing everything in hot water. The actual recipe is a detail to the act of cleaning that goes on before and after. The reason most pickles are acidic is that you don't need to be as careful as when you do it in oil however pickling remains a key testament to actually understanding the science of food. (Yes, your grandmother did it seamlessly but you are not your grandmother so ...)

Preserved lemons are very easy to make. All you need is a mason jar, lots of lemons, some spices and tons of salt. The overwhelming acidity of the medium makes this a particularly easy "preserve" to make for beginners. There is only one important thing to note. No part of the lemons must "stick out" above the water line. You must press them down and/or squeeze them until all components are submerged below the acidic water line.

The other important note is not to skimp on the salt. More is fine (can be washed later, and the recipe adjusted) but less would be disastrous.

Before the CC provides a recipe, he will just note a caveat. This all depends on the size of your jars, etc. so the recipe below is necessarily approximate, and in any case the most important detail has been stated above — submerge the lemons in the lemon juice completely.


24 Meyer lemons
6 tbsp salt
1 stick cinnamon
1 tbsp cloves
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp peppercorns
2 bay leaves


Reserve about 6-8 lemons for the pickling process. Juice the rest, and strain the juice through a sieve.

Quarter the reserved lemons till about near the bottom but make sure you don't cut all the way through. Squeeze them a little for the juice (they will not float if you do this,) and salt them liberally on the inside. Set aside.

Wash the jar with extremely hot water. Pour boiling water into it until just before starting the pickling process.

Pour out all the hot water.

Layer the salt to about 1/2" at the bottom. Add all the spices, and the reserved lemons. Pour the lemon juice all over mixture. Make sure everything is submerged. If not, press down until it is. (You are really squeezing the lemons to bring their density below that of the lemon juice.)

Store for 30-40 days in a cool dark place.


Marcus said...

I tried making lemon confit once. I cut some lemons in half and packed them in kosher salt. They turned gross. Green funk on top, lemons were brown and unappealing and stunk like dickens. After I cleaned out the crock, I could still smell them so I ended up throwing that crock out.

Not sure what happened...

ShockingSchadenfreude said...

No clue what "lemon confit" is. Here the lemons are dunked in pure lemon juice and salt. That's a seriously acidic bath!!!

However, as mentioned, the lemons have to be under the "water line". That is crucial.

macavity said...

Lemon confit involves sugar more than salt. Also, cannot use lemon ribs and juice.
When packed in sugar, one needs to "melt" the sugar so all lemon skins are completely dunked in the liquid -- it needs several hours of solid sunlight over several days or slow cooking on stove before bottling.

Marcus said...

According to Michael Ruhlman in Charcuterie:

"Lemon confit, or preserved lemons, is a powerful seasoning and great pantry item... A common ingredient in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines... "

His instructions basically are:

1. scrub lemons and halve crosswise

2. pack into salt in a nonreactive container.

Searching the intarwebs for lemon confit, as I recall, yielded similar descriptions also using salt. In most cases IIRC people put the whole thing in a glass jar and store it in the fridge. I used an earthenware container. Didn't work out for me.

ShockingSchadenfreude said...

Michael Ruhlman is a loser. If you read his crap, you will lose.


He hasn't achieved much except managing to suck the correct celebrity cock of the day.

Here's the personal take: link.

Challenge you to read that book, and just identify each subject. Not asking for much, just map each "he/she/his/her's" to the actual subject.

Try it. You will fail.


Marcus said...

Well he introduced me to the craft of charcuterie, and for that I'm thankful.

The "lemon confit" was a miserable failure but I have made some excellent corned beef following his instruction as well as basic sausages (I usually just stuff them into some vegetable instead of casings), general purpose brines (something I had no knowledge of previously) and gravlox.

Overall I find his book, Charcuterie, useful and it has expanded my culinary experience.

ShockingSchadenfreude said...

Maybe he's evolved?

But my claim is extraordinarily precise. One must either refute it by pointing out the flaw in the claim, or accept it as true.

The man is a total loser!

Marcus said...

Well I'm not contradicting your claim about either his grammatical talent or being a loser. I have no doubt that your claim concerning grammar is spot on. I'm just saying I liked his book and it has added value to my life. It's entirely possible for that fact to coexist with your evaluation of his writing ability.

However, I would point out that one can be a "winner" by sucking cock also. One need not necessarily forge his own road to be a winner. But maybe that depends on how you define "winner".