It has been a while, but way back some four or five months ago, I made some preserved lemons. Of course, it has taken until now to blog about them as it would have been useless to just write about making them without being able to write about the end result!
Let me tell you, the end result is impressive. So impressive. Lemons on steroids. Oh yes.
Now before I go any further, if you're new to preserved lemons let me explain that these aren't for use in a sweet capacity. No, they're for use in fish dishes, or Moroccan tagines, with lamb or pretty much anywhere you want the full power of lemon zest, but without the sharp tang of lemon juice.
I had been dallying around the edges of using preserved lemons in dishes for years. I even bought a jar of commercially prepared preserved lemons, used two and threw the rest away months later, having never gone back to them. However, they always stayed on the edges of my culinary consciousness and I always intended to get back to using them with some seriousness.
Then I began reading about people having made their own. About how easy it was and what a great result they got from being home made. Well, they weren't kidding on both counts. Making them is as easy as cutting and squeezing lemons - if you can do that, you're home and hosed. As for using them, well, I've only used them in one dish as of yet but I don't need anything more than that, they're phenomenal.
If you're one of the enlightened who use preserved lemons a lot but assumed they would be tricky to make - read on. Likewise read on if you're even just a tiny bit curious about them, as you really don't need to make a whole shedload of them. Your only restriction is the size of the jar you preserve them in!
So, here we go :
Lemons - more unwaxed lemons than will fit into the amount of jars you have available
Sea or Rock salt - expensive or economical, it's up to you, but for approximately 5/6 lemons you will need at least 200g. Just make sure that it's salt with no additives.
Begin by sterilising your jar(s).
Heat your oven to 140degC/225degF/gas 1. Wash the jars in hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place the jars on a baking sheet and put them in the oven to dry completely. Allow them to cool and you're good to go.
The first step is to drop a small handful of salt into the bottom of the jar.
Next, taking your first lemon, cut a cross into each lemon so that it divides the fruit into four sections that are still attached at one end.
Sprinkle salt into the cuts, forcing it right into the deepest part of the fruit. Don't be mean about this - really cover each lemon in salt.
Then, push the lemon into the jar and, taking a wooden spoon, use the handle end to push, squeeze and flatten the lemon so that a) it takes up as little room as possible and b) a degree of its juice comes out.
Repeat with further lemons until the jar is full. I used a half and two quarters, along the line, to fill up the inevitable small gaps. Once your jar is full of lemons, check how much juice you have released. If the juice is up over the top of the uppermost lemon then that's what you want. If not, squeeze sufficient lemon juice into the jar until the uppermost lemon is covered.
Lastly, add another handful of salt and encourage it into all the little gaps.
Give the neck of the jar a good wipe clean and seal it up. Place it into a dark, cool cupboard and wait some four to five months. Every so often, visit your lemons and turn the jars over, just to ensure the juice is getting to everywhere.
At the end of the preserving time, open your jar with reverence and anticipation. You will find the juice has turned syrupy and the smell is just incredible.
To use your lemons, take as much as you will require for the dish and scrape away the flesh. Rinse the rind under a cold tap briefly to wash off the worst of the salt and chop, or slice your lemon how the recipe dictates. A good inaugural recipe is my Lemon & Caper Butter Cod, which enables you to enjoy the special flavour of your lemony efforts whilst resulting in a bit of a special dinner.
Just make sure to get a second batch on to preserve before you finish this batch. I reckon that once you've got them, you're not going to want to run out!