Salt Preserved Citrus
Preserving citrus. There are a number of ways to go about it. Marmalade or jelly. Dried and frozen. PickledÖ. yes, pickled. Salt pickled citrus.
Preserved lemons and limes are a relative new comer to our pantry. Iíve only started making them in the couple of years. And I admit, I made my first batch before I really knew how to cook with them. But I kept seeing references to salt preserved lemons (often with Moroccan spices) and I knew in the depths of my soul(stomach) that they were something I was going to love.
Iím no longer sure how I cooked certain things without them anymore. I put the preserved limes in tacos, quesadillas and jerk chicken. The lemons end up in roasted vegetables, chicken dishes, all sorts of bean dips, salad dressings and mustards.
Salt preserved lemons (or any citrus) are an exceedingly simple preserve that costs very little to make and gives back with oodles of salty, lemony funkiness to whatever dish they are used in. Preserved Lemons are sometimes available at specialty markets and will cost upwards of $12 a jar. Making a jar of preserved lemons at home should run you less than $4, depending on how expensive lemons are in your area and if you are using organic or not. I make mine with regular old lemons and limes, but this is also a great way to put up those fleeting meyer lemons or even more exotic citrus options like kumquats.
There are a number of different takes on how best to make preserved citrus. The one below is just one method, and one widely available on-line. I wish I could remember for certain which location I borrowed from last year, but trying to track it down again has proven fruitless (ha!). Because of the salt and the acidity of the citrus, itís really hard to mess up. I like the slightly funky flavor in these lemon pickles, so I let them sit out for three or four weeks while they do their job before I pop the jars in the fridge. You could easily choose to leave them for less time on the counter. They will still be good. Traditionally, this method of preservation meant that the lemons could be salt cured like this before the days of refrigeration. So in theory, these could be left out on the counter completely. However, the mild fermentation process that is actually taking place would continue Ė you would have a continually changing condiment. The refrigeration slows this process down significantly and stabilizes the end result. Some recipes call for almost cutting the fruit in the quarters, but leaving them attached at the bottom and stuffing the salt in to the cavities. Though traditional, Iíve found that fully quartering my lemons and limes is better for my cooking style. It lets me remove pieces from the jar without having to cut them off of a larger part and I can remove seeds more easily while making the lemons to begin with. I can also pack more in to each jar. If someone knows what the benefit to *almost* quartering them is, Iíd love to hear it.
Usually, the rind is the part used in cooking, but you can use the flesh as well. Depending on the dish I will rinse off the very salty brine or leave it on and decrease salt in other areas of the dish. That choice is really up to you. You can dice the pieces up very small or puree them, again, depending on the recipe. Preserved lemons can be uses easily in any savory dish lemon is called for, but be aware that they tend to be more intensely *lemon* than fresh lemons are- a little goes a long way.
A lot of recipes involve making a quart of these. I parred it down to a pint size, which may be better for someone who is not sure how much they will use or are just getting started. I think though, once you try them, youíll love them enough that having quart jars in the fridge is a forgone conclusion.
Salt Preserved Citrus Recipe
Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen
Makes 1 Pint
3-4 medium sized lemons or limes at room temperature
1/4 cup kosher, pickling or sea salt
additional lemon or lime juice (I prefer fresh, just get an extra piece of fruit, but you can use bottled)
Wash and sterilize a glass jar and lid. Mason jars work well. Wash and scrub your citrus. Unless you grow your own or get them very locally, they are going to be coated with wax. Dry with a clean towel.
Cut off the ends of your citrus and quarter the fruit. Remove any seeds. Sprinkle a bit of salt in to the bottom of the jar. Working in layers, add three or four lemon quarters, skin side up to the jar and then some of the salt. Using a wooden spoon, press down on the lemons gently but firmly- you want them to release their juices but you donít want to break the rind. Continue layering in lemon quarters and salt, pressing every so often until the jar is nearly full. If the citrus has not put out enough juice to cover the pieces of rind on its own, add enough extra to cover the pieces.
A small weight can be used to keep the lemons submerged in the brine(I use a glass votive candle holder that I keep for just this purpose). Put a cover on the jar and leave at room temperature. Every few days, open the jar and remove the weight (if using) and wash it. Close the jar and shake the contents gently. Return the weight to the jar if necessary. The salt and juice will start to thicken and the color of the lemons deepen. Once the brine is thick and syrupy (about 3 weeks) the lemons are done and the jar can be kept in fridge for up to a year.
You can add spices while making these for more complex flavors. Moroccan spices are fairly common when making preserved lemons, but you can use your imagination, depending on what you intend to cook these with. Layer the spices in while adding the salt, a little bit each layer. The below amounts are for the pint sized batch above.
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1/2 tsp corriander seeds
1/4 tsp whole cloves
1 small cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp turmeric
Jamaican Jerk Style Spiced Limes
1/2 tsp corriander
1/2 tsp crushed hot peppers (scotch bonnet is traditional, but any kind works)
1/4 tsp whole allspice
1/4 tsp black peppercorns