Moroccan Preserved Lemons

September 9, 2010

I have always been intrigued by Moroccan Preserved Lemons. Those bright yellow orbs floating in a jar bring to mind some kind of odd science experiment. I was up late one night, bored, and declared to Will, “I must make them!” And after I made them, I realized I had no idea how to use them. I also had no idea what they would taste like.

Regarding their taste, they are really quite lovely and exotic. They taste almost like a salty, fragrant, lemon candy. Regardung how to use them, I was a bit perplexed. I knew they were sometimes part of a Moroccan dish called “Lamb Tagine,” but I could only find them used as an ingredient in only a handful of recipes. But, since a marinade is composed of a fat, an acid, and an aromatic (see my Marinade Basics) and since we had lamb in our fridge, Will and I used it to marinate and then sprinkle over the lamb, which was very good. The preserved lemons, here, are so fragrant they function as both the acid and the aromatic. I just chopped them into bits and mixed it with a little canola oil (which would not not to overpower the lemony taste. Also because Thomas Keller usually uses canola oil over olive oil in situations like this). I’ve also tried it sprinkled over sauteed vegetables which I like very much.

To use these, rinse and scoop out the flesh. You can use all of the rind.

Oh, and just a note. Don’t be like me and try to make these when you have a papercut. Unless you like to rub both salt and lemon juice in your wounds.

MOROCCAN PRESERVED LEMONS (from David Lebovitz’s Moroccan Preserved Lemons)

  • Scrub the lemons with a vegetable brush and dry them off.
  • Cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end if there’s a hard little piece of the stem attached. From the other end of the lemon, make a large cut by slicing lengthwise downward, stopping about 1-inch (3 cm) from the bottom, then making another downward slice, so you’ve incised the lemon with an X shape.
  • Pack coarse salt into the lemon where you made the incisions. Don’t be skimpy with the salt: use about 1 tablespoon per lemon.
  • Put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add a few coriander seeds, a bay leaf, a dried chili, and a cinnamon stick if you want. (Or a combination of any of them.)
  • Press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. Cover and let stand overnight.
  • The next day do the same, pressing the lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for a 2-3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid. If your lemons aren’t too juicy, add more freshly-squeezed lemon juice until their submerged, as I generally have to do.
  • After one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they’re ready to use. Store the lemons in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for at least 6 months. Rinse before using to remove excess salt.

To use: Remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. Split in half and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the flavorful juice, which can be used for flavoring as well, then discard the innards.

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