There’s two types of cooks in a kitchen, or really, two types of people in the world. There’s the type that will see you working on cutting up a case of lemons, or working any other type of non-prep list item, and will stop to chat, asking for details.
'What are you doing?'
'Making preserved lemons.'
'How do you do that?'
'You pack them in salt, but you squeeze the juice out first, so you can cover them with it.'
'Why are you throwing away the ends? And the seeds?'
'The ends have too much pith, too bitter. And I take the seeds out because I'm not lazy. Ok, I'm lazy, but not that lazy. Might as well clean them properly now so I don't have to worry about it later. I can just use them as they are.'
The same conversation over and over, mostly in Spanish, every time someone walks by. Sharing what I know is not something that ever bothers me. What use is it for me to know something if I can’t teach it to someone else?
What bothers me is the other type of person. The type that walks by, asks you what you are doing and with a sneer asks:
I’m making them because no one else is making them, because I can. Because there’s lemons and salt. Because there’s nothing else to do. Because I don’t need an actual reason to make something that tastes good and is useful. Do you?
Preserved lemons, at their best, taste of salty, gel-like bits of slightly fermented, mellowed out lemons. At their worst, imagine tasting lemon dishwashing liquid with gritty kosher salt granules thrown in for texture.
Disposable food-safe gloves are incredibly useful when preparing preserved lemons; there’s nothing quite like the sudden burn of acid hitting a break in the skin.
Select lemons that feel light for their size; heavier lemons have a thicker pith, and will be unpleasantly bitter. Organic, or home grown lemons are preferable, but conventionally grown lemons are just fine, provided they are washed well before using.
You will need approximately 6 to 10 lemons, depending on their size to fill a pint size jar, and around 1/2 cup of kosher salt. But this recipe is more about technique, rather than specific measurements.
Cut the ends the lemon, discarding. Cut the lemon in half, lengthwise, and depending on the size, cut each half into two or three pieces. Trim the white center of the lemon (and if anyone knows the technical name for this, please do tell me), and remove any seeds.
Press the lemons, straining the juice as you do so. Pour a thin layer or salt in the glass jar, about 1/8”, and begin layering the lemons, overlapping as little as possible. Cover each layer of lemons with a layer of salt, continuing to do so, leaving 1/2” of headroom in the jar. Pour the strained juice over the lemons, making sure it reaches into the bottom of the jar. Seal the jar tightly, give it a good shake, and leave it resting at room temperature for two weeks, or until the the salt has dissolved. Invert the jar every 3 or 4 days, as undissolved salt will settle to the bottom.
Once the juice in the lemons has visibly thickened, and the salt has dissolved, refrigerate the lemons, and allow to rest for another two weeks, or until the skin of the lemon has become smoother, and gel-like in appearance.
Once they’re ready, strain the lemons, and soak them briefly in cold water to eliminate any excessive saltiness, and remove any undissolved grains of salt. Place the lemons in a clean jar, and cover them with a 50-50 mixture of olive and canola oils. Store refrigerated, for up to six months.