When lemons are in season in the cooler months, it’s a great time to make salt preserved lemons. The preserved lemon skins, once ‘cured’ (or matured) are zesty, salty and add depth to your dishes. They are so easy to make yourself.
If you do not grow your own lemons, you can often find them inexpensively at roadside stalls, being sold or given away in your workplace tearoom, or at the farmers market. You can use imperfect fruit, which are preferable to non-organic.
The salt preserved lemons can be used in dishes like Moroccan cooking, casseroles, under roast chicken skin, marinades, and stuffings. They can also be used in salads, cous cous or quinoa dishes, salad dressings, marinades and even cocktails.
My favourite way to use salt preserved lemons is in gremolata, a condiment which uses flat leaf parsley, crushed garlic, olive oil, finely chopped nuts, and finely chopped preserved lemon. It is delicious served with barbecued fish or meats, on rich Winter casseroles.
It takes only about half an hour to prep, and make the salt preserved lemons, but then they require 3 to 6 weeks to sit and ferment/ cure. The acidity and salt concentrations are very high, which inhibit food-spoiling bacteria from growing, so they can last a very long time, keeping the sealed jars on the pantry shelf.
salt preserved lemons
About 4 to 6 small jars. Rather than being a very specific recipe, this is a guide. Your lemons may be bigger, or smaller, they may be juicier or less so, or you may need less or more salt.
- 6 to 8 medium to large organic, or chemical-free, blemish-free lemons
- 1 cup good quality salt (salt flakes, sea salt, fine salt, you can use any you have on hand)
- Filtered water or extra lemon juice
- Optional: dried herbs, like rosemary, thyme or tarragon (see note)
YOU WILL ALSO NEED
- 4 to 6 jars (about 200 to 250ml capacity) with wide necks & screw on lids (you can use reclaimed jars, or buy them from a preserving or kitchenwares store)
- large pot, or boiling water preserving pot with rack
- clean tea towel
- tongs (preserving tongs)
STERILISE YOUR JARS & LIDS
- I always prepare more jars than I think I will need, so if there are ingredients remaining, you have the jars ready to go!
- Place the clean jars and lids in a large pot with enough water to completely cover them all.
- Over medium heat on the stovetop, gently bring the water to boiling point.
- Allow them to gently boil for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the jars and lids from the pot, drain as you lift, and place right side up on a clean tea towel. Allow to cool. (You can do this in batches, if you only have a small saucepan or pot).
- NOTE: If you are concerned about the jars knocking on the bottom of the pot when sterilising them, you can put a folded up teatowel in the bottom, a waterproof/ silicon pot trivet, or a small round baking rack. I use none of these and have never had a jar break when sterilising them.
- Wash the whole lemons, rubbing them to remove dirt, spider webs (or wax).
- Cut the lemons into quarters. NOTE: If you cut a couple of lemons and they do not seem very juicy, or easy to release the juice, consider the alternative method (see below).
- In the first jar, put about a tablespoon of salt on the bottom.
- With very clean hands, press the lemon quarters down into a jar, squeezing the juice out of each piece into the jar, until you have one layer.
- Add a small layer of salt (a teaspoon or two) on top of the first layer of pressed lemon quarters
- Now press more lemon quarters in, to form a second layer
- Add another teaspoon of salt.
- If the jar isn’t full, continue to add more lemon quarters and salt layers until the jar is filled near to the top (depending on the size of the jars you are using, how squashable or juicy the lemon quarters are, you may end up with two, three or more layers to fill the jar).
- Once the jar is filled to just below the rim with layers of lemon quarters, salt and juice, check to see there is enough juice in the jar that it is covering the lemons. You can use extra squeezed lemon juice, or a small amount of filtered water, to fill the jars if there is not enough lemon juice in there. Don’t overfill the jars, leave about a cm of space from the top of the rim.
- Continue to process the remaining ingredients, into the remaining jars, as per steps 3 to 9.
- Once all your lemons are used up and/or all your jars are full, seal them with their lids, and gently shake or turn them, so the salt and juice get distributed.
- Label and place the jars on a bench top, turning each day for a week or two, to help dissolve and ensure good distribution of the juice/ salt mix into the nooks & crannies of the lemon pieces (especially if you have used rock salt). Then you can transfer the jars to a cupboard or pantry.
- They will be ready to use, after a few weeks, but may take up to 6 weeks to be fully developed . You can open a jar to test a piece after a few weeks, but you can see through the glass if the skin has become a darker, almost translucent, yellow colour (see photo below, about 2 months later). The pieces may have a gelatinous coating or texture. They will become mellow and subtle in lemon flavour, but quite salty and still zesty.
USING YOUR SALT PRESERVED LEMONS
- Once you open a jar, you can keep that jar in the fridge until you use up all the salt preserved lemon pieces. (Your other jars can remain in the pantry or cupboard until you are ready to open them).
- If the juice/ salt mix becomes gelatinous, that is normal and you can still use the preserved lemons.
- When you want to cook with them, remove the fleshy part, rinse and chop the skin section finely.
- You can add as much or as little as you like, but they can be powerful and salty!
- You do not have to boiling water process the full & sealed jars, or keep them in the fridge, as the contents are safely preserved by the high acidity of the lemons/ juice, and the high % of salt.
- You need them to be at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, so they can ferment/ ‘ripen’. If you notice a build up of gas in the jars, this can be related to the fermenting process. You can unscrew the lid a little to help release the gas, then seal the lid again.
- If you have any lemons with a lot of blemishes on the skin that are not suitable to preserve, you can juice those, and keep the juice to top up the jars, if need be (see step 9 in Method).
- I prefer to use smaller jars, as they are more practical when it comes to opening and using my preserved lemon pieces. I don’t use much preserved lemon at a time, so a small size jar in the fridge will last a couple of months. You see beautiful photos of large & aesthetically pleasing jars full of whole preserved lemons, but that just doesn’t work for me or my fridge.
- I used rock salt that I had added dried rosemary to on a previous occasion. If you want to use dried herbs, add a teaspoon or two to each jar.
- You can experiment with additional flavourings for your salt preserved lemons, like peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon, fennel seeds, coriander seed, or none at all!
AN ALTERNATIVE METHOD
- If your lemons are thick-skinned or not very juicy (and it might be difficult to press the quarters in and release the juice as you go)
- Cut the lemons into halves, and using a juicer, squeeze the juice. Remove any pips, and set aside.
- Cut the spent lemon halves into half again (i.e. into quarters)
- Place layers of the lemon quarters in the jars with salt in between each layer
- Top with the lemon juice from the juicer
- Continue from Step 9, as above