Preserved lemons, a staple of Moroccan cooking, are made using the entire lemon, skin and all, cured in its own juices along with salt and sometimes sugar. Like most preserves, the recipe varies from cook to cook, so you might find them brined with the addition of garlic, shallot, bay leaves, coriander seeds, chili flakes or cinnamon sticks.
The pickling is easy to do, although it takes at least three weeks before the lemons are ready to use. Preserved lemons are often the secret ingredient that makes an otherwise ordinary dish sparkle. Just a small amount stirred into a quick sauté or added to a roasting chicken adds a brightness and depth of flavor.
I also love them with any type of seafood. Enhance a sautéed salmon fillet by stirring finely chopped preserved rind into the sauté pan with a little butter and chopped cilantro. Preserved lemons may taste a bit tart, but the skin and pith impart an intensely lemony flavor compared to using just juice and zest.
Making traditional preserved lemons at home is easy and well worth the work if you plan ahead. I use about eight small lemons for a quart-sized jar, with about a cup of kosher salt. I may add a stick or two of cinnamon, a bay leaf and/or some whole peppercorns.
It’s important to scrub the lemons very clean before quartering them almost all the way, leaving the quarters still attached at one end. Simply rub the cut surfaces with salt (about 2 tablespoons per lemon), and pack them into the (very clean) jar, pushing them down into the bottom.
Add enough fresh lemon juice to cover the lemons completely, cover the jar, and leave it out on the counter for about a week, turning it upside down every so often. Refrigerate the jarred lemons and let it sit for another month or so, with an occasional turn and shake. They’ll keep perfectly, refrigerated, for at least a year.
Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of “Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.”