Written by Chef Alan Zox Friday, 22 February 2013 00:00
Many years ago in the early days of rock and roll, Trini Lopez, one of the genre’s first Latin success stories, sang about lemons. Lemons are one of my favorite foods because they remind me of warm weather— something we all crave. Lopez sang “Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.” Lopez was wrong. In fact the juice and the skin of lemons, known as the zest, are delicious to eat. Of course the song was a metaphor and a precautionary tale against falling in love too easily—pretty to see with a lovely scent as well; yet unattainable in the end like the sour lemon.
But lemons in their multivariate attire are excellent to accent seafood and chicken, beans, greens and grains, and to brighten soups, stews and sauces alike. And of course what would summer be for kids and adults without lemonade, lemon drops, lemon cake and those chewy lemon squares. Lemons are tart but they are great combined with some sugar, mint and crushed ice. My favorite pot roast recipe, which is ideal for cold weather, is a sweet and sour braise—with the juice of one or more lemons and your favorite dried fruit, brown sugar, onions, carrots, red wine and water or beef broth.
Lemons are addictive for some people. I remember my older sister who was about 10 years old at the time being reprimanded by our mother for chewing and sucking on lemons by the score. “Your enamel will peel off if you don’t stop,” she told us. Of course she was partially right as mothers and fathers are. The acid in the lemon could wear down our teeth if we chew on too many. But they were so good, tart though they were.
Today many people are enchanted by Middle Eastern and North African cuisines that call for preserved lemons, especially the food of Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, India and Pakistan. Lentils, chick peas, rice cooked with almond milk, preserved lemons, cumin, cinnamon, coriander and bay leaf are delicious and nutritious alternatives to butter, chicken stock and dairy products.
A few years ago when I was visiting a Moroccan restaurant in Washington, D.C., I was introduced to preserved lemons in a divine lamb stew. Such a dish can easily be duplicated if you have lemons that have been pickled and preserved properly. And they are fun to make. They are wonderful with all kinds of meat (beef, lamb or young goat which is extraordinary if you can find it), chicken, seafood or vegetable and bean dishes. I can’t be certain that it’s ideal to suck on preserved lemons, however, especially since the pickling process includes Kosher salt and lemons. But to each his/her own.
4 lemons, scrubbed very clean
2 lemons cut in half (Here you will only be using the juice not the rind or pulp. Use a strainer to catch the seeds.)
½ cup Kosher salt, more if needed
sterilized quart canning jar
Put 2 tablespoons of salt on the bottom of the sterilized jar. Insert your paring knife into each of 4 lemons cutting from the tip to the bottom. Each lemon is now quartered into wedges but held together at the tip. Cut the remaining two lemons in half and squeeze all the lemon juice from both into a small container.
Pry the lemons open and sprinkle salt all over the inside and outside of each cut lemon wedge. Pack the lemons in the jar. Push them down so that the juice is extracted. (If easier, you can do this before placing the lemons in the jar.) Pour the remaining juice into the sterilized jar. Pour a couple of tablespoons of salt to top off the jar. Close the jar and let sit at room temperature for a couple of days- turning the jar upside down occasionally. Put in refrigerator and let sit for three weeks - again turning upside down occasionally.
To use, remove a now softened, macerated lemon quarter from the jar and rinse thoroughly in warm water to remove most of the salt. Discard the pulp before using or not and dice into small pieces. I personally enjoy seasoning a dish with the rind and the pulp. But I recommend being judicious in the amount of preserved lemon you initially use. For example, you might want to start off using only an inch or less of your lemon in each of your first few dishes to assess the acidity level. You can also add spices, such as cloves, coriander seeds, and peppercorns.
Try preserved lemons with cod or halibut or a chicken breast or thigh like Chicken Kiev. Make a cut along the breast and insert a small amount of diced, preserved lemon with one teaspoon of butter, and some minced shallots with ½ teaspoon of coriander. Don’t use any salt because the lemon will still have a mild, salty flavor. Top the fish you have chosen with the same combination of ingredients. Cook either dish at 400 Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or until done. Your larder of condiments and culinary flavors have been duplicated 10 fold. Enjoy!
One cautionary note: If there is an odd, gaseous small to the lemon jar when opened after 3 weeks, you may want to start over. This has never happened to me however and I am not that meticulous a canner. But you can avoid this unlikely event from ever happening by placing your quart container and the top in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes before using. Remove with a sterilized tong that you can continue to use when putting the lemons into the quart jar.