Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

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Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

It’s citrus season for those of us living in southern Italy. While it’s great to get loads of organic lemons, oranges, mandarin oranges, clementines, grapefruit and citron from our tree-owning friends, we tend to get so many that we don’t know what to do with them all. In the past I’ve made loads of limoncello, arancello, lemon-ginger jam, orange-lemon marmalade, but we don’t particularly love those types of liquors (give me a finocchietto any day, though!) and don’t eat much jam in our home. Last year I started making citrus peel powders, which are an easy way to add extra flavor to all sorts of dishes. Then I happened upon the idea of preserving lemons in salt. I was intrigued and decided to give it a go. The preserved peel has a very strong and peculiar flavor so you really only need a little bit chopped up in your plate. It adds an amazing extra dimension to all sorts of dishes and is a way to be able to use your lemons for another six months or so. And it’s by far the least labor-intensive of my citrus preparations so far. Are you intrigued, too? Read on!

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

Grab your supplies: some organic lemons (scrubbed clean and dried), coarse salt, a large sterilized jar and cap, cutting board, sharp paring knife. Last year I used grapefruit, too, which worked fine, though I prefer the flavor of preserved lemon. (My husband liked the grapefruit version more than I did.) Some recipes instruct you to soak your lemons before preserving in order to get rid of any bitterness, but I honestly couldn’t tell much difference between the ones that I had or hadn’t soaked previously, so don’t bother.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

First chop off any bits of stem still stuck on the lemons.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

Then cut your lemons into segments. I chose to cut my lemons in half first because I found that sometimes a whole slice was too much for me to use. I also tried using whole lemons with cuts made into them, as I’d seen in a few sources, but I found they didn’t get preserved as well as sliced lemons.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

Put a layer of salt into the jar to cover the bottom.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

Then start adding your slices with salt between layers. You want to really squash the lemon wedges together as much as you can.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

Continue layering lemon and salt until you get to the top of the jar. Push down on the top layer of salt as hard as you can. You want the lemons to squeeze out their juice. If you manage to make enough space for another layer of lemons, add them. If not, just top off with more salt.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

Put the top on the jar and store in a cool dark place for at least one month before using the lemons.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

If you look at the jar the next day, you should notice that lemon juice has seeped out and started dissolving some of the salt at the bottom. That means that things are going just as they should! The salty lemon juice preserves the fruit, which is what makes it still good and with that special flavor even six months later. You might want to take off the cap and squeeze the top layer of salt to help the lemons give off more juice, or turn the jar upside down a couple of times to help the juice get all around every so often.

**update 1/21/16**: Now that I’ve been making these lemons for a few years, I actually suggest that you squeeze the juice of half or a whole lemon onto the top layer of salt when preparing these. It’s really important that the lemon juice saturates the salt in the whole jar. A couple of times it happened to me that there wasn’t enough juice at the top of the jar and I had to throw away the topmost lemon slices, which had turned brown.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

After about a month the lemons are ready to use. They will look like this when you take them out from under the salt and will be soft.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

Don’t throw out the extra salt from the top of the jar! I like to put mine in a little bowl to use to salt my pasta or rice water, or to add to broth or other things that I’m cooking when needed. It has a nice hint of lemon to it.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

The one bad thing about using preserved lemons is that you have to remember to take them out of the salt before you want to use them. Rinse them off under running water and then leave them to soak in a little bowl of water for 20 minutes or so, or else they’ll be too salty to bear.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

After soaking the slices, cut off the peel, discarding the little pulp still there. To get the most flavor out of your preserved lemon, use just the outer yellow peel, not the inner white part. I did sometimes use the whole peel, including the white part, which also tastes good, though doesn’t have as intense a flavor as just the outer part. Cut up the peel into little slices and add directly on top of the food in your plate.

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

What dishes are good with preserved lemon? The sky’s the limit! Fish, rice, vegetables– you name it! Have you ever prepared a dish with an ingredient that just doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor? Pop some preserved lemon on top to give it a pop of flavor! I’ve used it on green bean fricassee…

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

… pasta with zucchini-mint pesto

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

… bruschetta with extra zucchini-mint pesto

Eat lemons all year: How to make salt preserved lemons

… and multigrain bean soup, among lots of other dishes. Use your imagination! Just a couple things: If you notice that your lemons aren’t covered in liquid, try to squish them down to where there is liquid. If your lemons start drying out or turning brown, it’s time to throw them out… and look forward to the next lemon season when you can make more!

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12 Responses

  1. Mmm, my mouth is watering even as I type. Over here in England we can get citrus fruits pretty much all year round. this would be good to do though when prices are cheap. Buy up. Salt up. Eat up. Thank you sharing this delicious tip with us.

    • Well, I guess here we can get them all year round, too, but there’s no comparing freshly picked in-season local lemons with the tiny imported out-of-season ones! Plus, seeing as I live in an area where they grow everywhere, I make it a point to not ever buy them! Let me know if you try these!

  2. Here is California we have Meyer Lemons which are thin and shiny skinned. Would this method work with this variety as I noticed yours were very thick skinned-a lot of white area whereas there’s practically no white area on the Meyer’s. Does it matter if you use table salt, kosher salt, sea salt? Thank you for providing uses of the preserved lemons as I’ve seen them preserved before, but with no idea how to use them, I wasn’t interested, but know that I see what suggestions you have, I might try it. Thanks again.

    • Hi Rosemary,
      I’ve heard of Meyer Lemons, though I had no idea what made them any different from other lemons before this. But they work just fine for salt-preserving! Really the only part you eat is the outer peel, so they’re perfect. I’ve actually seen other tutorials for this using Meyer lemons and it’s worked for them, so go for it! I actually had the same thing happen to me last year when I started making these. I didn’t really understand how to use them, but then I learned quickly! They’re very versatile so just be creative and try them on different dishes! Let me know how it goes! 🙂

  3. Questo tipo di conserva mi incuriosisce molto! 🙂
    Grazie per le spiegazioni dettagliate!

  4. mmm piace tantissimo anche a me preparare i citron confit…..io poi alla fine quando il sale è tutto sciolto…frullo tutto e ottengo una specie di crema….che è buonissima-
    Ecco la pagina dove avevo condiviso il tuo post:
    https://www.facebook.com/LeIniziativeDeiGqp

  5. Interessante, ma perché non citare la fonte e far passare tutto il procedimento come ‘tuo’? Non lo è. Ciao!

    • Ciao Rossana, certo che il procedimento non è “mio” perché è un processo che si fa in alcune culture da centinaia di anni. Ma questo vale anche per tante altre cose. Ad esempio, anche se ho pubblicato una ricetta per il limoncello, ovviamente non ho mai fatto finta di averla inventato io. Ma, allo stesso tempo, non cito una fonte perché ho imparato entrambe queste procedure da più persone, ricette, siti, ecc, e poi le ho elaborate in qualche modo, e poi aggiungo delle note sulla mia esperienza personale che potrebbe essere utile agli altri. Non sto copiando un testo o una ricetta da qualcun altro. Io sono sempre molto attenta a citare SEMPRE le fonti perché credo fermamente nella correttezza in rete e spero sempre che gli altri fanno altrettanto per me! 🙂

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  1. […] means that I’ve been making my beloved salt-preserved lemons […]

  2. […] Drizzle it on top of grilled asparagus. Or add it to cubed steamed potatoes and sprinkle pieces of salt-preserved lemon on top, as I did here. The possibilities are […]

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