Preserved lemons (salted lemons) are a much-loved condiment in Moroccan and other North African cuisines. It is more common to use the rind rather than the flesh, although both rind and flesh can be added to stews or long-cooking dishes. Use clean tongs to remove pieces of preserved lemon from the jar, rather than your fingers (to prevent introducing bugs). Rinse away the salty brine and pat dry, dislodging and discarding the flesh if it’s not called for. Slice, chop or blend and away you go …
Use in dishes to give a citrus boost or a citrusy salty-pickle hit. Preserved lemon is especially good in bland dishes like couscous, and salads made with lentils, barley, burghul and the like. Add to tabbouleh, to shellfish sauces for pasta, and to risottos. To finish off fried fish, pan-fry floured fish fillets in butter, transfer to a plate add a little more butter to pan, then add sliced preserved lemon and cook until the butter turns brown. Pour over fish and serve. Gorgeous.
A little chopped preserved lemon added to vinaigrettes, creamy lemon dressings and yoghurt or feta dressings gives a fresh lemony zip. And a few slivers mixed in with stuffings and meatball mixtures, or added to a spicy tomato sauce, adds a fresh pop of flavour.
Preserved lemons will keep a year or two but once they’re opened, I transfer them to the fridge because as the level of lemons in the jar drops, some of them can be left exposed to the air and cause problems. Covering the surface with olive oil is another option to prevent contamination.
Preserve your own lemons – it’s easy!
If you have access to good fresh unwaxed lemons, it’s easy to make your own preserved lemons. Scrub lemons thoroughly, removing any stem. Cut each lemon into quarters, starting at the flower end of the fruit (that’s the pointy end, opposite to the stem end), but only cut two-thirds of the way through so the lemon will hold together. Put a rounded teaspoonful of coarse sea salt (make sure it is not iodised) in each lemon, close the lemon and massage outside skin with a little more salt. Put the lemons in a bowl as you prepare them, and give each a good squeeze to release some juice. Put a good tablespoon of coarse sea salt in the bottom of a sterilised preserving jar and tuck in the lemons – really pack them in tightly – sprinkling generously with salt as you go. Tuck in cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves or flavourings. Cover the lemons with the lemon juice and salt from the bowl and top up with freshly squeezed lemon juice and either a little boiling water or olive oil, leaving a headspace at the top of the jars. Use a sterilised metal skewer to poke around to release any air bubbles. Cover jars with screw-cap lids. I like to leave the lemons for about a month, turning them every so often to ensure the salty liquid is in contact with all the lemons. Once opened, store refrigerated. Limes and grapefruit also work well.
Recipes using preserved lemons
Photography Aaron McLean http://www.aaronmclean.com