Ah, lemons. Pretty to look at and incredibly versatile, my kitchen is rarely without them. Juiced, sliced or zested, the zing lemon brings to any dish has been appreciated for centuries. Of course, like so much of the produce that comes my way, it was only a matter of time before it found its way into the pickling brine.
Lest pickling lemons seem like an innovation, the practice of preserving lemons by brining is a longtime staple in Indian and Moroccan cuisine and is an anchor of many traditional recipes, most notably used in tagines. The minced rind of preserved lemons can be used in almost as many ways as the lemon itself. The unusual sweet and salty citrus of preserved lemon can be used to brighten soups, stews, sauces, stir-frys, salads or in marinades for fish, chicken or beef.
Meyer lemons lend themselves well to the process due to their thin skin and sweetness, but any fresh lemon will stand up to salty brine. Lemons with a particularly thick skin may be blanched before brining to remove some of the bitterness in the pith, but it isn’t required. Once you’ve tried your hand at preserving lemons, consider experimenting with the addition of bay leaves, peppercorns or coriander seeds to add complexity to this special ingredient.
6-10 lemons (enough to pack a 1 quart jar)
Juice of 1-2 lemons
1/3 cup kosher salt
Scrub lemons thoroughly and scrape off any discolorations on the skin.
Trim 1/4” from the stem end of each lemon.
Quarter each lemon lengthwise, cutting through 3/4 the length of the fruit, leaving enough to hold the lemon intact.
Fill the inside of each lemon with salt and pack lemons tightly into a sterilized quart jar, leaving as little space as possible.
Pour any remaining salt over the packed lemons and squeeze lemon juice into the jar to cover lemons.
Seal the jar tightly and store in a cool dry location.
For the next 3 to 4 weeks, occasionally shake the jar to agitate the brine. Jar may be opened to further compress the lemons, if desired.
After 3 weeks, check the consistency of the peels. Once they have become soft and pliable, lemons are ready for use and may be refrigerated for 6 months to a year.
Rinse any residual salt from the skin and discard seeds. Flesh may be either discarded or included for a more intense flavor.