Preserved lemons can be an expensive ingredient that often needs to be bought from specialist stores. Find out just how easy it is to make your own.
DIY store cupboard staples
I love jarred ingredients. From grilled artichokes, to roasted aubergines, booze soaked fruits and pickled vegetables of all kinds! They are perfect for adding a punch of flavour to a dish, especially if the fruit or vegetable in question is currently out of season. But some preserved fruits and veggies should be celebrated for they have their own unique flavour and characteristics – take preserved lemons for example.
I first came across preserved lemons in a recipe for lamb tagine. They were clearly a necessary component but not the star of the show. After finding a jar of them in my cupboard a few months back, I’ve discovered just how wonderful they are all on their own. I love their mellow lemon tang that sits so well with the slightly salty brine. I’ve been adding them to salads, tagines, roasted veggies and cous cous of course! But there is so much more you can do with them.
The slight downside to this delicious ingredient is that they are often incredibly expensive and not all supermarkets will stop them. Jars are often tiny with just 4 or 5 small lemons inside. Given how easy they are to make at home, why wouldn’t you! To make them yourself you’ll need a few bits of kit: large kilner jars, something to squish the lemons down with (a cocktail muddler or a rolling pin works well) and either glass weights or ziplock bags. The glass weights / ziplock bags filled with water are used to make sure the lemons stay submerged in their juice. You also need just 2 ingredients: lemons and salt! It really is that simple.
For best results I’d recommend using unwaxed lemons – the wax coating will act as a barrier and we don’t want to end up eating waxy rinds at the end of the process! Don’t worry if you can’t find unwaxed lemons in your store. You can rub them under hot water and give them a good scrub to help remove it. (I’ll add a reminder in the method below). You can use pretty much any salt you like but when preserving I like to use the best quality possible. If a recipe calls for just two ingredients you should really source the best! For that reason I use a coarse seal salt form the Cornish Salt Co. If you use regular table salt just be mindful that it’s a lot more fine than coarse salt and so you will want to use a little less. The plus side is it dissolves quicker!
Finally…you might see there are some herbs and spices floating around in my jar – they are bay leaves and pink peppercorns. These aren’t essential and don’t have a huge impact on flavour – it’s very subtle. They do make the jar look pretty though. Other spices you could try include chilli, cinnamon and coriander!
Right, shall we begin?
- 1 litre jar
- Glass weight or ziplock bag (optional)
- Cocktail muddler (optional)
- 8-10 lemons unwaxed
- 15 tbsp coarse sea salt
- Sterilise your jar using either food safe steriliser or by washing in warm soapy water and leaving to dry in your oven on a low heat.
- (If you have not been able to source unwaxed lemons, run them under hot water and scrub to remove the wax.)
- Cut your lemons into wedges. (For a pretty look you can leave them in tact at one end but this is not essential and you may struggle to fit the whole lemon through the neck of your jar).
- Sprinkle each lemon wedge with 1 tsp of salt and place into the jar (adding any spices to the jar at periodic intervals).
- As you add the lemon wedges to the jar push them down to release their juices and to ensure they are packed in tightly (a cocktail muddler comes in handy for this!).
- Once the jar is full, push them down again to release their juices and to ensure there are no air bubbles between the lemons. (The jar should now be full of lemons and lemon juice).
- If the lemons are not quite submerged, add more lemon juice to the jar along with a final teaspoon of salt.
- Before closing the jar, use a glass weight or a ziplock bag filled with water to ensure that the lemons do not rise above the level of the juice.
- Close the jar and leave in a cool, dark place for 3 months before opening.
- During those three months, try to remember to give the jar a shake roughly once a week.
- Once opened, the preserved lemons should be stored in the fridge and will last several months (if you don't eat them before!).