Preserved lemons feature strongly in Middle Eastern and Moroccan cooking, and are an ingredient that are unique and unable to be substituted with fresh lemon. There are many times I have come across a recipe that calls for preserved lemon and I don’t have any in the house. I have normally worked around this by adding fresh lemon, sometimes by squeezing and zesting the lemon, or adding in the lemon cut into 8 or 10 pieces with its skin still intact if it is going to spend enough time in the oven to soften. The final result is alway more than fine, but not nearly as interesting.
Earlier this week, I approached the topic from a new angle. I found two lemons in the fridge and decided to preserve them and to shape a meal around them, rather than to treat them as an afterthought. Lemons are preserved by salting them. The salt leeches out the juice from the lemon to create a salty acidic brine that surrounds the fruit. As a result of this preservation process, the lemons are transformed from their usual bright acidity to something new with amazing depth and complexity. The rind becomes softened and chewy.
Preserving lemons can be quite simple. The most accessible approach I have found is from Honey & Co: A book of Mediterranean Food.
There are two ways to preserve lemons. One way is to leave them whole and quarter them without cutting all the way through. The lemons are stuffed with salt and packed into jars and salt is packed around them. Lemons preserved whole take more time to cure and the flesh is cut away and only the rind is used. I prefer the method I tried this week. The method is adapted from Honey & Co. and begins with finely slicing whole lemons, removing the seeds as you go.
Drop the lemon slinces into a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of course sea salt for every lemon. I used two lemons, therefore, 2 tablespoons of salt was required. Leave them in the bowl for a few hours to allow the salt to drain the juice from the lemon. Pack into a sterilized jar. Keep for up to a month in the fridge. They can be used the same day and will get better with time.
Chicken Roasted with Preserved Lemon and Bulgar
Bulgur, fragrant spices, and preserved lemon make for an interesting and simple chicken supper.
- Divide a roasting chicken into 10 pieces
- Mix into 3 Tbsp flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp each of cumin, coriander, and ground fennel seeds, and salt and pepper
- Roll the chicken pieces in the flour mixture and tuck into an oiled roasting tin. Drizzle with olive oil, and season and roast at 400 F for 20 minutes or so until nicely browned
- Remove the chicken from the oven and transfer the chicken to a platter.
- Roughly chop an onion and fry it in the same pan as the chicken was roasted. Add a chopped fennel bulb, chopped carrots or a turnip, along with a clove of garlic and chopped rosemary
- Toss in a quarter cup of finely diced preserved lemon. Deglaze pan with white wine.
- Pour over 1 cup of bulgur and mix in to the vegetables and sauté for a minute or two. Add two cups of water
- Place chicken pieces over bulgur. Cover partially with a lid
- Bake at 375F for about 45 minutes
Once preserved, the lemons can find their way into endless Middle Eastern inspired meals. All you need is a lemon, a good sharp knife and some patience.