Preserved Lemons

A few summers ago I had salad at a restaurant in Brooklyn that was topped with a couple of thin slivers of preserved lemon peel. It was the first time I had ever had them and they were delightful. Then this past March I saw a big basket of meyer lemons in the grocery store and couldn’t resist buying a big bag of them. I had no idea what I was going to do with them, and then I remembered that salad. I had assumed the lemons were preserved in sugar, but when I went looking for a recipe I only found instructions for preserving them in salt. I was a bit perplexed because I didn’t remember them being salty, but I decided to give it a shot.

All you need is some lemons, some salt, and a jar to put them in. Between the acidity of the lemon juice and all the salt, nothing scary is going to grow in there, so you don’t even have to properly seal the jars. If you can’t find meyer lemons, you can use regular lemons, but try to find some with relatively thin skins. And you definitely want to use organic lemons for this, especially since you’ll be eating the peel.

Give your lemons a really good scrubbing. Slice off the stem end. Then cut them lengthwise it to quarters, but don’t cut all the way through, so that the four sections are still attached at the pointy end. Now pour some salt into the cuts in the lemons. Cover the bottom of a sterilized jar with a layer of salt. Then start cramming your lemons in to the jar, adding more salt as you go. Pack the lemons in as tight as you can. If you need to separate some of the lemon sections to make them fit better, that’s ok. Top the jar off with some more salt and screw on the lid. After about a day, the lemons should have released enough of their own juice that the lemons are completely submerged. If they aren’t, top off the jars with some more freshly squeezed lemon juice. Screw the lids on tight. Now you wait. Leave the jars out at room temperature for at least three weeks. Give them a good shaking once a day, or whenever you remember.

The juice will become thick and syrupy and the lemons will turn almost translucent. After three weeks, they’ll be ready. I cracked open a jar last weekend, after about five weeks. The peel is the part you want to eat. Use a paring knife to cut the pulp and pith away from the peel. It will come right off with very little effort. Then cut the peel into thin slivers. The peel is about as salty as an olive, but when you bite into it the saltiness quickly gives way to the tart lemon flavor. Your first thought will be, “huh.” Then you’ll take another bite, and then another, and then before you know it you’ll be hooked. They’re really quite addictive.

You’ll start to think of all kinds of things to put them in. Added to a salad the dressing will wash away the brininess, leaving behind slightly sweet, tangy morsels deliciousness. Soon you’ll be putting them in everything and you’ll wonder what you ever did without them.


18 thoughts on “Preserved Lemons

  1. Chriss

    Amazing, I have never tried a preserved lemon but I’m thinkin I’d like it. Have you ever baked with it?

  2. kate Post author

    Ed- I don’t think you’d want to eat the pulp. It so salty and sour that it’s pretty much inedible.

    Chriss- I haven’t tried baking with them. I don’t know how well that would work because of the saltiness. I think they’re really best for savory things.

    I’ll have some recipes up soon. . .

  3. Jack

    hey kate mom tried doing the lemons but she thought it was sugar instead of salt. so were gonna have to try another batch. love jack

  4. christa

    kate, can we try these in cocktails? I feel like we should have a lemon experiment sometime soon. you know, research for the blog. I’ll bring the vodka.

  5. teddy walls

    wow! usually sole’s dad has a bunch of lemons from his trees every year, they are organic but have really thick skins. will it really be a problem or would you just have to soak them longer?

  6. kate Post author

    teddy – i think it would probably work fine, it might just take longer for the salt to really permeate the skin. Also you may need to add a little more juice so that they are totally submerged, if there’s more skin than juice.

  7. linda eberline

    Quick question: Once they’re preserved, do they need to be stored in the fridg or can they be stored in a cellar?
    My friend and I are looking at natural relief/cures with they upcoming flu season and preserved lemons in salt and or vodka was often used back in the day to settle upset stomaches and improve immunities…..Thanks in advance!

    1. kate Post author

      Most recipes I’ve looked at say to refrigerate them after they’ve had a few weeks to cure, but I’ve seen some that say it’s not necessary. I keep them in the fridge, but between the salt and the acidity I doubt anything nasty could ever survive in there.


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