Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Secret Ingredient #2 - Preserved lemons

The secret to Moroccan & African cuisine, making Preserved Lemons is a delightful winter afternoon’s pastime that will ensure a constant supply of zesty flavour for months to come. And this is what all the cloak-and-dagger secrecy has been about when I went to the Orange Grove Organic Markets on the Long-Weekend: I was on the hunt for seasonal organic bush-lemons, with good, thick rinds.

I arrived at Tim & Barbara’s house on Sunday, laden with lemons and my portable studio (lights, camera, action!) and we proceeded to compare our research - both web-based and from our favourite dog-eared old cook-books - about Zen the Art of Preserving Lemons.

There are quite a few different methods, it seems: some cooks recommend slicing the lemons into thin circles; others say wedges are best; while still others keep their lemons almost whole, slicing a deep six-pointed star through the tip of the fruit. Some methods advise squashing the lemons into jars and covering with juice; while other recipes recommend draining off the juice and packing the rinds in oil. A few recipes add whole spices, such as cinnamon and cloves; others go with just the pure freshness of citrus.

What they all agree on, however, is salt: Lots of salt…

So we decided that we should be a bit scientific about it and try all the methods, to see which one we prefer when the whole process has run its course. We can let you know in about six weeks time...!


Choosing Your Lemons:
The rind is the desired end-product, so choose lemons with good, thick, unblemished skin. You will need a minimum of 10 lemons - for this project, we bought about 30, with the intention of giving some preserves away and we used Organic lemons to ensure no pesticides on the skins.
Wash the lemons well anyway, to remove dust.

About 25g of coarse sea-salt per lemon.
Use plain sea-salt, not iodised (rumour has it that the iodine does weird things to the colour of the final preserve?)

Preserving Jars:

Use clean glass jars, preferably with a bit of a neck as this helps keep the lemons compressed. Use non-metal, coated, or stainless-steel lids, as the acid from the lemon-juice will tend to rust bare metal.

Spices: (optional)
Cinnamon stick
Clove buds
Cardamom pods
Coriander seeds
Bay leaf
Lemon Myrtle leaf

Methods for Preserving Lemons:

Wash lemons well.

Prepare and fill jars using one of the methods below and then leave in a sunny place for 3 days, turning upside down twice daily to keep the juices and/or oil moving and surrounding the lemon pieces. Make sure wedges remain covered to prevent mould – you may need to top-up with more juice and/or oil.

Leave in a cool dark place for 40 days and nights.

When ready to use, wash most of the salt off a piece of rind and slice the peel into chunks or slivers for use in cooking.

Preserved Lemons will keep refrigerated for six months.

Method #1: Whole Salted Lemons
Slice three cuts across the point of the lemons, so the lemon splits into six segments, but don’t cut all the way through – the segments should stay attached to the base.

Pack the centre of the lemons with salt, making sure the salt covers all surfaces of the cuts. Press the whole lemons into a jar, squashing them together so the juice runs and surrounds the lemons. Cover with extra juice.

Method #2: Wedges with Salt
Slice the lemons into wedges. Spread salt on a plate and coat wedges in salt, both sides. Pack salted wedges tightly into jars, squashing them down to release the juice.

Method #3: Wedges with Spices
Salt the lemon wedges as for Method 2 and press into a jar, interspersing with aromatic spices such as: Cinnamon stick, Clove buds, Peppercorns, Cardamom pods, Coriander seeds, Bay leaf, Lemon Myrtle leaf.

Method #4: Circles with Oil
Slice lemons into rounds and squeeze most of the juice from the slices. Reserve the juice for later use in some another dish - lemon juice can be frozen - "waste-not-want-not", my mum always says...

Sprinkle both sides of the remaining lemon-rind slices with salt and rest them on a slanted platter in the sun for three hours, allowing any remaining juices to drain off. Pack the salted slices in a jar, sprinkling with more salt during the packing process. Cover with grape-seed oil and seal the jar, allowing to cure for 4 to 5 weeks.

To Use Preserved Lemons:
Remove a wedge from the brine and scrape the flesh from the skin, discarding the flesh and the white pith. Slice the remaining lemon skin into thin strips or finely chop.

Remember Preserved Lemons are very salty, so it is not usually necessary to add further salt to a dish when using preserved lemons. Rinsing under cold water before slicing can help reduce the saltiness.

Preserved lemons go well with:
blanched green vegies


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Keely said...

Gorgeous post! :)

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