Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan and other North African cuisines. They are used in tagines and many other dishes to impart a tangy depth of flavor to just about any dish. I use them in my Moroccan Lemon Chicken with Honeyed Sauce which is debuting over at The Gilded Fork this week.

The lemons are preserved in a salty brine mixture over time, and the following recipe is a simple way to make them, adapted from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World. He chooses to use the refrigerator to help finish the lemons, making for an easier job and shortening the curing time.

Preserved Lemons

makes about 1 quart

1 cup kosher salt
3 pounds lemons, washed, dried, then halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 or 3 cloves
1 pinch of saffron
4 or 5 black peppercorns

Sterilize a 1 quart canning jar, and sprinkle a 1/4 inch deep layer of kosher salt on the bottom. Place 1/4 of the lemons in the bottom, sprinkling with more salt. Repeat this process, adding the spices along the way. When the jar is about 3/4 full, squeeze the remaining lemons into the jar, seeds and all, so that the fruit is completely submerged in the lemon and salt brine. If the juice doesn't cover the lemons, add more lemon juice. Cover the jar with the sterilized cap.

Leave the jar out on a counter for 7-10 days, shaking it once a day during the curing time. (You'll notice interesting chemical things going on during that time, as the mixture bubbles and the spices swell up.)

Move the jar into the refrigerator for the next week to continue to cure before you use them. When they have cured, remove the lid and smell. They should smell sweet and a citrusy aroma should develop. If you smell ammonnia, it's no good and you should not use them. This means that air got in during the process or your jar wasn't sterile.

If you are using them in a stew or a tagine, you can blanch them in boiling water for 10 seconds to remove a little of the havey saltiness. For salads or other quick cooked dishes, remove the flesh and blanch the peel in boiling water, then add to dishes.

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