When winter brings you Meyer lemons, use the whole thing.
These Meyer lemons stopped me dead in my tracks at the supermarket last week. It was like having a farmer’s market experience in January. You know that moment when you spot something so fresh and picture-perfect that you have to possess it?
More typically I feel grocery store envy, a pining for the luxuries of urban grocery stores in places I used to live. A friend once referred to them as “food museums”: the cheese section with entire continents of cheese and accompanying cracker displays, the glass-jarred sea salt section in the loveliest palettes. Oh, not to forget the local artisan breads, the fresh wild fish… I digress.
The point is, it’s not like that here in the far reaches of Oregon. Still [sigh]. So, I was startled and delighted by the novelty of these gorgeous Meyer lemons. And they were a bargain!
Come to find out, this hybrid (mandarin/orange + lemon brought from China to the U.S. by agricultural explorer Frank N. Meyer) is now in season.
What’s so different about Meyer lemons?
What you notice first is their orange-hued skin that’s satiny smooth. Within this thin, unblemished skin is much less pith plus more and sweeter juice than standard lemons. [Read this for a detailed breakdown on the differences between regular lemons and Meyer lemons.]
Part of practicing whole vegetable eating (similar to whole animal eating) is using every part and wasting next to nothing. So, it quickly became clear that I’d be making preserved lemons.
Generally, recipes for preserved lemons make about a quart. But a little preserved lemon goes a long way, so I decided to make a much smaller quantity using just two lemons. For the other lemons to be juiced, I first salvaged all the zest by using a sharp vegetable peeler–avoiding as much of the bitter white pith as possible–and freezing it for future baking projects. (Candied lemon zest scones, anyone?) You could also use a zester.
Another feature of other preserved lemon recipes is that they take up to four weeks. The advantage of Meyer lemons is that they have thinner skins all the quicker to brine. Slicing the lemons would speed up the brining process and also get them into a form that’s ready to use–in just one week.
Cook with preserved lemons the way you would capers or olives, or whenever you want to add a bright, salty note to a vegetable soup or stew, a pasta or risotto, or braised chicken. Just chop a tablespoon or so straight from the jar and add to your liking during or after cooking. It’s that easy.
For those who like more specifics, here are five recipes, including a cocktail, using preserved lemons from some highly respected sources:
Cocktail: Salty Collins (Marcus Samuelsson)
Appetizer: Spiced Hummus with Preserved Lemons (Joanne Weir)
Vegetarian dish: Couscous Salad with Dried Apricots and Preserved Lemon (Melissa Clark)
Main dish: Chicken Thighs with Lemon (Canal House)
Main dish: Aromatic Braised Oxtail with Preserved Lemon Polenta (Ming Tsai)
Quicker Preserved Lemons
This is my unorthodox method for making about 3/4 pint of preserved lemons in just one week. The quantity of salt is to my liking, but you can always rinse the lemons before using them just as you might for capers or olives, if they are a bit too salty for your purposes.
- 3 lemons, washed and dried preferably Meyer lemons
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
Sterilize a pint jar with a lid.
Quarter 2 of the lemons and slice each of the quarters 1/4-inch thick. Toss them in a small mixing bowl with the salt. Pack the sliced lemons into the jar and tamp them down firmly with a pestle, muddler or spoon.
Peel the zest from the 1 remaining lemon (reserve the zest for future usand squeeze the juice into the jar to cover the lemon slices. Purton the lid.
Set the jar in at room temperature (65-70 degrees F). Check it in two days' time to be sure the lemons are covered with liquid and the salt. is completely dissolved. If not, give it a shake. The salt will cause the lemon to release more juice.
Within 6-7 days the rind will appear glossy with a translucent quality. It will be very tender and delicious like the salty lemon pickle it is. You can choose to continue to ferment the lemons at room temperature or store the jar in the refrigerator with a note to self to use regularly.