Salt Preserved Lemons

February 23, 2011

Yes, it is true, I’m on a serious citrus kick.  Why not?  What better to brighten the palette on a dark and dreary winter day, than the vibrant colors and tart flavors of lemons, oranges, grapefruit, and lime?  Lemons are my current favorite. Last summer, in an act of manifest destiny, we cut down our lemon tree  to make way for a larger outdoor dining area.  Luckily our neighbors have supplied us with a steady stream of Meyer lemons to fuel each of my citric indulgences.  The latest…  Salt Preserved Lemons.

This recipe comes from my grandmother’s recipe file.  She, like me, sought out ways to celebrate each harvest and make it last.  The first time I made these, I had no idea what to do with them.  Luckily, they last a ridiculously long time in the refrigerator, so I had plenty of time to accumulate recipes. (After a year in the fridge, they still tasted fine, but I tossed them because it just seemed wrong to be eating something so old.)   They are used often in North African and Middle Eastern foods.  They can be added to dishes whole or you can remove the pulp and pith and add the preserved zest.

The process here is pretty simple.  I soak the whole lemons in a brine solution for 3 days (changing the brine each day).  Then slice the lemons into wedges, toss in salt, sugar, and spices.  Pack the lemons into a sterile jar and top off with lemon juice.  I like to use the type of jar that has a rubber gasket.  This prevents the salt and acid from touching metal (as it would with a Ball or Kerr jar lid).  Over time the metal will corrode.  If you don’t have a jar like mine, place a double layer of plastic wrap over the top of the jar and screw on the lid.  This will protect the metal.

Use preserved lemons in any dish you would use lemons and salt.  Blend them up in hummus, use in dressings, add to stews with chicken or lamb. Once you start using them you’ll find a million uses.  If you need preserved lemons for dinner tonight, check out Mark Bittmans’s quick preserved lemon recipe.  The flavor is not quite as complex, but it is quick and works in a pinch.  Here is a recipe we enjoy for using preserved lemons: Braised Moroccan Chicken and Olives.

Salt Preserved Lemons

Makes 1 quart

12-16 lemons (preferably organic), washed

1 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup  kosher salt (plus more for brine)

3 T Sugar

1 teaspoon Peppercorns

1 Bay Leaf

the Brine

Mix one quart of water with 1 Tablespoon salt.  Stir until salt dissolves.  Put lemons in a bowl and pour brine over.  The brine should cover the lemons.  If it doesn’t, mix another quart of brine and add until the lemons are covered.  Weigh the lemons down with a plate and let sit on counter for one day.  You can repeat this process, changing the brine daily, for up to 1 week.  The brine will help reduce the bitterness of the lemon.

the Salt preserve

Drain the lemons and dry with a clean towel.  Juice enough lemons to make 1 cup fresh lemon juice.  Cut remaining lemons into 6 or 8 wedges.  Put the wedges in a bowl and toss with salt, sugar, and peppercorns.  Pack the salt crusted lemons into a sterile jar, see note above about jar choices.  Bury the bay leaf half way through.  Pack them in tight so they will not float.  Pour the lemon juice over the lemon wedges.  If they are not covered, add enough water to cover the lemons.  Cover (be sure not to have the salt and lemon juice in contact with metal, it will corrode. See note above) and  let sit on counter for 2 days.  Tip to mix solution a couple of times a day.  Move to refrigerator to store.  They will be ready in one month, but will keep well for at least a year.

Here is a printer friendly version of the recipe: Salt Preserved Lemons

For more information on food preservation see, Home Canning Basics.

You may also like:

Meyer Lemon Curd

Salt Preserved Lemons on Punk Domestics
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7 Responses to “Salt Preserved Lemons”

  1. Janice Says:

    My Meyer Lemons are on the small side right now so I think this would be a great use for them. I even have a rubber gasket jar that is sitting empty just waiting for this treat.

  2. Patty Ekenberg Says:

    We preserve our lemons in this fashion, too. Another great use of lemons is to add them to a grilled dinner. We don’t put the salted lemons on the grill; we put the lemons that we have used in marinades (mostly Meyer), or lemons we have just squeezed over the chicken/fish. The grilled lemons are wonderful–just a bit charred, just a bit sweet, just a bit sour. They are especially good with chicken and fish.

  3. Karen Says:

    I love the idea of grilling the lemons! Thank you, Patty.

  4. shamtest Says:

    I can’t seem to be able to reach this page from my iphone!!

  5. sccf2 Says:

    Hello! Do you make preserved lemons because you don´t have a fresh supply all year round? or is there a flavour difference you’re after? Where I live, we have lemons all year round (almost – winter is the more abundant citrus season) and I rarely have to buy them. Is it worth it to make/use lemon preserves instead of fresh lemon in a recipe?


    • I have lemons year round as well. The preserved lemons do take on a different quality. They are salty! Of course it is sum is more than the parts though. I add these to salad dressings and stews. It is nice to have both fresh lemons and preserved lemons in the kitchen arsenal.

  6. Lemonhead Says:

    Optional spices are corriander, clove, allspice, garlic, ginger and mustard seed along with those listed. Try different combinations for fun! Maybe a hint of balsamic? Has anyone tried “preserving” as in heating and boiling etc after the aloted month has passed? Results? Good idea or bad? THANKS


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