Preserved Lemons

Ready to ferment

When I discovered preserved lemons several years ago, before I was knowingly fermenting on a daily basis, I knew I had struck gold.  Like (probably) most people, I found a recipe adapted from Paula Wolfert (seriously, try to find a preserved lemon recipe not adapted from Paula Wolfert), and I was immediately excited about the possibilities.

Preserved lemons are not your average condiment.  They are versatile:  I use them in every type of cuisine from Indian to Italian.  They brighten a dish and add a flavor that can’t be replicated or beat!  I liken it to savory lemon meringue pie.  That will sound more delicious once you’ve tasted them, I promise.  The peels are transformed into munchables, but I love to use the pulp as well in sauces and dressings.  You can also take a quarter of a finished lemon (pulp included) muddle it in a drinking glass and top it with sweetened water and chill to make Vietnamese salty lemonade.  Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!

You can make these lemons however you like, with savory seasonings (mustard seeds, dill, rosemary), sweet seasonings (remember your final product will still be salty) or no seasonings at all.  I generally use whole spices, although as an alternative you can mix your salt with powdered spices before you pack your lemons.  You do need salt and lemons, though.  Or meyer lemons, or limes or oranges.  So good!

Lemons waiting to shine

Ingredients:

Organic citrus is more important here than it might usually be because you are actually going to eat the peel.

15 organic lemons, plus 3-4 more for juice (sub limes, oranges, meyer lemons or your other favorite citrus.)

6-8 T sea salt

3 T your preferred spices (clove, cardamom and star anise are what you see pictured)

Process:

I like to make a half gallon jarful of these because they are pretty and therefore make a good hostess gift and because they taste really good and get eaten relatively quickly.  They can be kept on the shelf indefinitely (like a year, at least) or in the fridge for even longer.  You can cut this recipe into halves or thirds with no problem.

  1. Give your lemons a good scrub with your hand or a veggie brush and choose those with unblemished peels.
  2. Put 3 T salt in the bottom of your jar.
  3. Take a lemon and cut as if you are going to quarter it, but stop before the quarters are separated.  Sprinkle sea salt on each plane of exposed lemon flesh.
  4. Close the lemon back up so it looks whole.
  5. Repeat this process with 14 other lemons.
  6. When you have a few cut and salt packed, place them in the jar, and push down with a large wooden spoon, so that the lemons get a little crushed and expel a lot of juice.
  7. Sprinkle salt and a pinch of each spice or seasoning you are using on top of the lemon layer.
  8. Repeat this layering process until all of your 15 lemons are in the jar, make sure they are packed as tightly as you can get them, and that the juice is covering as many lemons as possible.  Compress until you can compress no more.
  9. If the lemons aren’t submerged in juice, thoroughly squeeze the remaining lemons and pour the juice into the jar, until the lemons are covered.
  10. Put on the lid and give her a good shake.  Press the lemons back under the surface of the liquid.  Store at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.
  11. Come back for a shake and submerge every day or so until about a month has passed.
  12. Your lemon peels will be slightly translucent and smooth, the liquid will be cloudy.
  13. Take out a lemon or section as needed and separate the peel from the pulp.  They come apart easily with a little prodding.  If using the peel, dice or mince, and remember, this is both salty and very flavorful.  A little goes a long way!
  14. Make a salad, some pasta, some bread or anything that can be topped and enjoy!

 

Basics Ferment Vegan Vegetarian

20 comments

  1. Lex says:

    In the novel LITTLE WOMEN the main character Joe and her sisters would risk getting into trouble just to get some pickled limes. Until now I thought they only existed in fiction. I would definitely like to try some!

    • Amanda says:

      Fantastic, Lex! I will totally need to find that reference. Jo was my heroine when I was little. Who knew she was into ferments :-)! Good luck with your first go. Please do let me know how it goes.

      Best,
      Amanda

  2. Anne says:

    Hi Amanda,
    I have 3 lemon trees, so preserved lemons are something I know well, I recently discovered a magnificent, huge Seville Orange tree at the Dominican convent down the street (like maybe 100 years old, totally amazing). I have made most excellent marmalade from her fruits, but recently read somewhere that marmalade was originally a fermented thing ( I think this was Nourishing Traditions, saying that sour oranges were shipped in barrels of seawater). Have you done anything with oranges? I am about to dive in, but would love to know of anyone with any experience with fermenting citrus. Thanks!

    • Amanda says:

      Hey Anne,
      Lemon trees in the yard are the number one reason I would move back to California! You are so lucky! You can absolutely do the exact some process with oranges and limes. I have not tried kumquats or pomelos, so I’m not sure if it would work with a sweet peel/sour innards or super pithy citrus fruit, but I’ve done many other types of citrus with no problem. The only issue for oranges is that they aren’t as versatile as lemons or limes when fermented, so it can be a bit tricky to get through a jar. No matter, though, they last forever! Please come back and let me know how it goes! The same process applies, but use a tad more salt to counteract the higher sugar content of the oranges!
      Good luck!
      Amanda

  3. Malgorzata says:

    My preserved lemons turned out great! Thanks fo the receipe. Now I plan to make limes and oranges. Is it ok to cut limes/oranges in slices or chunks? Especially with oranges it would be much easier to fill the jar if they are cut in smaller parts.

    • Amanda says:

      So glad to hear that! You can cut them into chunks. Just one caveat for the oranges though: the smaller the pieces, the more likely you might be to end up with some lovely orange wine than with preserved oranges. Just make sure to cut the pieces as large as possible and to get the most thin-skinned varieties you can find, salt liberally and check frequently for any boozy aroma. None of this will be an issue with the limes. Your oranges may also need to ferment for a longer time than your lemons and limes. I had a batch that took 3 months before it was edible. Pro tip: orange peel when not fully fermented tastes bad and stays on your palate for WAY too long! :-)

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Denyse,

      Do you mean the liquid that’s leftover after eating the preserved lemons? If so, I’ll tell you that I’ve unfortunately never had a ton leftover, because it’s magic! Add it anywhere salt and flavor would be good: salad dressing, stock, bread, crackers, dips, sauces, risotto, marinades and so much more. It’s quite a concentrated flavor, so start with small doses and go from there.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. derek says:

    My lemon ferment has a decent sized layer of “whitish” film on the top after almost 4 weeks. Is this OK? Normal? Should I skim it off?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Derek,

      Without seeing it, I can’t tell you for sure. Here is my best guess, although you should definitely use your senses here. If it smells off or tastes off, it needs to be ditched. Are the lemons submerged? If the film is on lemons that have risen above the brine level, I would definitely chop those parts off and compost them. If it’s on the surface and not touching any of the lemons definitely skim it and compost it. Give what’s underneath the smell test.

      Again, you’ll have to use your discretion. I have never had a film on mine, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong. It’s likely a harmless yeast buildup, but again, without seeing it, I can’t say for sure.

  5. opera.mad says:

    Hello there Madame Phickle,

    I followed the link on your preserved lemonade post here. As a sweaty Vietnamese (in any climate), I love chanh muối! Your post has reminded me that it’s been too long since I made my own from scratch and how much more satisfying the homemade version is.

    Cutting the lemons/limes in halves and packing them with salt, submerging in citrus juice and spicy additions such as cardamom, star anise and clove are excellent innovations. I was taught by my mother to poke my limes with a fork and pack the citrus with way more salt than your 6-8 tablespoons then wait for them to soften and get oozy. Your recipe is much better for beverages, and very likely quicker to accomplish, I think (sorry, Mom!)

    We’ll have to change the Vietnamese name for the concoction though due to your innovations.

    Chanh muối should now be called => chanh muối với đinh hương thảo quả và quả đại hồi .

    I try to learn and remember one new thing every day. Your recipe rocks so thank you and kudos!

    opera.mad

    • Amanda says:

      Okay, so thank you for posting one of my favorite comments ever. Definitely had me smiling over here.

      And although I have a past as a bit of a linguist, I admit that both chant muói and now even mores chanh muối với đinh hương thảo quả và quả đại hồi are out of my pronunciation range, but I will take it anyway!

      As for my salty guys, that 6-8 T is definitely a guideline, I gauge based on the smell whether or not I need more, but that tends to be a good starting point for me.

      Thanks for making me smile and for giving me a new phrase to learn!

      Amanda

  6. Autumn says:

    I’ve been stalking your blog for a couple of days and really enjoy reading your recipes. You have a great voice. Can’t wait to try some out!

  7. Allie Caulfield says:

    Hey, there! Phickle is a gorgeous piece of work, and everything on it looks fantastic. I have a question about the lemons though, and sorry if I’m reviving a dead thread of sorts.

    What is actually fermenting them? The pH should be resting around 2 or 3, and that’s a seriously saline solution for most bacteria to handle. Humans traditionally haven’t played with Archaea, that’s something from the modern day, but salting and acidifying foods to promote fermentation with Bacteria is as old as the question “is that still good to eat?” It’s probably one of the more obscure questions you’ve been asked, but the idea that something so well preserved could ferment without further processing is kind of strange to me. Thanks!

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