One batch of preserved lemons, four different recipes | Get ahead (2024)

When I first discovered the pleasingly deep, citrussy undertone preserved lemon brings to recipes I became a little bit obsessed with it, and worked my way through a whole jar in no time at all. It’s a traditional ingredient in North African cooking, where it’s used in tagines, but I find myself using it for all sorts of things from seasoning hot oil when frying seafood, to making sauces for pasta dishes and flavouring grain-based salads. The distinctively fragrant dimension it adds can become quite addictive when you start playing around, and works particularly well with fish, seafood, poultry and roasted vegetables.

I love just stuffing some into a chicken before roasting it, then basting the bird with the lemon-infused juices, or working it into a cous cous stuffing to go into the cavity.

Preserved lemons can still be quite a tricky ingredient to get hold of (though Belazu does a glorious one), but luckily, they’re incredibly easy to make very well yourself. You just need a little bit of patience for the salt to work its magic before you can enjoy the brilliantly intense flavour. I’d encourage you to make a jar and keep it in your fridge; it’s a beautiful glowing, golden thing and makes a great gift for friends too.

To make a jar of preserved lemons

130g sea salt
100g caster sugar
A sprig of thyme leaves, sprigs removed
5 large unwaxed, organic lemons, washed, sliced finely, pips discarded
1 tbsp olive oil

1 Mix the salt, sugar and thyme, then scatter a pinch of it into the preserving jar. Dip one side of the lemon slices in the salt and sugar mixture. Layer, salty-side down, in the jar. Occasionally scatter some more of the mixture on top. Press the layers down to squeeze in the remaining lemon slices, until you’ve reached the top of the jar. By the end, the juice and self-made brine should completely cover the layers. Top with the oil, ensuring none of the lemon is in contact with the air. Seal the jar. Refrigerate for up to 2-3 months.

The stir-through sauce: Kale, toasted pumpkin seed and preserved lemon pesto (pictured above)

This versatile pesto is fabulous on top of grilled steak or poached eggs, stirred through pasta or spread on toast.

Serves 4
40g pumpkin seeds
A pinch of cumin seeds
4 garlic cloves, peeled, but left whole
80g curly kale, de-stemmed and washed
1½ slices of preserved lemon, flesh and pith removed and finely chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
20g grated parmesan
A generous pinch red chilli flakes
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper

1 Fry the pumpkin seeds without oil for a few minutes, until they’re starting to look toasty around the edges. Add the cumin seeds and toast the lot for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2 Boil the garlic cloves in salted water for 3 minutes. Add the kale and cook for 1 minute, maybe a little less, until bright green and floppy. Drain immediately and refresh in cold water.

3 Blitz the garlic cloves, cumin and pumpkin seeds in a food processor, until chopped. Add the kale, preserved lemons, lemon juice, cumin, parmesan, chilli, 1 tbsp of olive oil and blitz again until chopped and well combined. Transfer to another bowl, add the remaining olive oil and mix by hand. Season to taste.

The pasta supper: Orecchiette with roasted cauliflower, preserved lemon and hazelnuts

I came up with this dish one day when I hadn’t been shopping and did a fridge forage, but had a few things languishing in the fridge, like a splash of white wine, half a cauliflower, some anchovies and preserved lemon. I also used some seedless white grapes to add a bit of sweetness to the rich, anchovy and preserved lemon sauce, but you could easily use golden sultanas. This is good with orecchiette, but any small, dried pasta will work.

One batch of preserved lemons, four different recipes | Get ahead (1)

Serves 2
½ head of cauliflower, washed, dried and cut into florets
Extra-virgin olive oil
A pinch of red chilli flakes
Salt and black pepper
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
6 slices of preserved lemon, flesh and white rind removed, finely chopped
6 salt-packed anchovies, washed, filleted and chopped
20ml dry white wine
A handful of seedless white grapes, quartered (or golden sultanas)
200g orecchiette or Messicani pasta
2 tbsp double cream
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Parmesan, to serve
A handful of toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle

1 Set the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Toss the cauliflower in 1 tbsp olive oil with the chilli flakes and a pinch of salt. Roast for 15 minutes until it starts to turn golden and smell nutty. Take out of the oven and set aside.

2 Meanwhile, fry the shallot and garlic over a medium heat for 4 minutes, or until the shallot is softening. Add the lemon. Stir in the anchovies until dissolved. Add the wine. Cook until it has almost evaporated. Add 250ml water and the grapes or sultanas. Reduce by half.

3 Meanwhile, cook the pasta for 5–8 minutes in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain immediately.

4 Add the cream, roasted cauliflower and pasta. Toss to coat. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir through the parsley. Serve with the chopped hazelnuts, parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil on top.

The fish dish: Pan-fried cod’s cheeks with preserved lemon and capers

You’ll probably need to ask your fish-monger in advance for cod’s cheeks, but it’s worth giving them a call because this meaty, thrifty cut is fantastic to cook and eat. Cook them in very little time at all and make a pan sauce with preserved lemon, capers and parsley to be spooned over them.

One batch of preserved lemons, four different recipes | Get ahead (2)

Serves 2-4
Flavourless oil (such as rapeseed)
500g cod’s cheeks, cleaned and sinew removed (or cod fillets)
Salt and black pepper
2 slices of preserved lemon, pith and flesh removed and finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
10g unsalted butter
2 tbsp capers, drained
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 Add a dash of flavourless oil to a very hot frying pan. Season the cod cheeks with sea salt. Add to the pan for 1-2 minutes, untouched, until they form a golden crust and come away from the bottom of the pan. Flip them over. Cook for another 2 minutes (total cooking shouldn’t exceed 5 minutes). Remove from the pan and leave to rest.

2 Turn the heat down to medium. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil and the lemon. Cook for 2 minutes, until melting. Add the butter, capers and lemon juice. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, until combined.

3 Serve the cod with sauteed potatoes and the sauce spooned over the top.

The weekend warmer: Slow-cooked lamb neck with preserved lemon relish

I love the fragrant, citrussy depth the preserved lemon adds to the long, gentle braise of this flavourful cut of lamb, and then the fresh punch it brings in the relish, cutting through the fattiness.

One batch of preserved lemons, four different recipes | Get ahead (3)

Serves 4
1 tbsp flavourless oil, plus a little extra
1kg lamb neck – 4 pieces (about 4cm each) with bone in – or neck fillets
Salt and black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
2 bay leaves
2 sprig of thyme, leaves chopped
1 tbsp harissa
2 slices preserved lemon, flesh and pith removed and finely chopped
150ml dry white wine

For the relish
4 slices of preserved lemon, pith and flesh removed
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ a lemon

One batch of steamed potatoes makes four different recipes | Get aheadRead more

1 Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Warm 1 tbsp oil over a high heat in an ovenproof casserole dish. Season the lamb pieces all over with salt and pepper, then brown them in batches to nice, deep brown for a few minutes on each side, transferring them to a plate as you go.

2 There should be quite a lot of residual lamb fat in the casserole, but add extra oil if you need to. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re softened and aromatic. Scrape up any brown bits from the lamb that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan (discard anything burned). Add the garlic, bay and thyme, harissa and preserved lemon and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring, until it’s all smelling really good. Add the lamb to the dish, laying them flat. Cover the meat with the wine and 600ml cold water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook in the oven for 1½-2 hours, until the meat is falling off the bone.

3 Mix the relish ingredients together in a bowl just before serving and serve the lamb neck on cooked pearl barley, with some of the relish spooned over.

Rosie Birkett is a food writer, stylist and the author of A Lot on Her Plate (Hardie Grant Books); @rosiefoodie

One batch of preserved lemons, four different recipes | Get ahead (2024)


How long does homemade preserved lemons last in the fridge? ›

Properly stored in the fridge, salt-preserved lemons can keep for a good 6 months. It is important to use a good canning jar with a tightly closed lid, and make sure the lemons are well submerged in the lemon juice. Some sources say they will last a good year, that may be, but I like to play it safe.

What is the difference between pickled lemons and preserved lemons? ›

Although they are more commonly referred to as preserved lemons, the fermentation process creates the preserved or pickled lemons and helps develop their striking flavor -- so to call them a kind of pickle is strictly correct.

What are the different ways to preserve lemons? ›

Press the lemons down to release their juices. Add to the jar the peppercorns and bay leaves, then squeeze the additional lemons into the jar until juice covers everything. Close the jar and let ripen at cool room temperature, shaking the jar every day for 3 to 4 weeks, or until the rinds are tender to the bite.

How long does homemade preserved lemon last? ›

Preserved lemons add a big punch of flavor, instant umami, and complexity to any dish. Rinse the salt off before using preserved lemon in place of fresh in recipes. The cured lemons will last up to a year in the back of the fridge.

What is the best salt for preserved lemons? ›

I use kosher salt (my go-to salt in the kitchen) because it tastes great and is inexpensive. A sterilized glass jar. Pick your jar size depending on how many lemons you want to preserve. The lemons will get smashed down and packed in tightly, so the jar will hold more lemons than you think.

Should you use the pulp from preserved lemons? ›

While many recipes advise discarding the pulp, you can use the pulp. It is quite salty, so add preserved lemon pulp to a dish slowly, as you would salt, and taste as you go.

Do you rinse preserved lemons before using? ›

For even more control, rinse the preserved lemons with cold running water to tame their salinity. If a recipe calls for preserved lemon paste, it's as simple as blitzing whole preserved lemons (seeds removed) in a food processor or blender until you achieve uniform consistency.

Do preserved lemons go bad? ›

Generally, when lemons are correctly preserved in a mixture that includes a liberal amount of salt and possibly spices, they can last for several months and quite often for years. The salt acts as a natural preservative, effectively inhibiting the growth of bacteria that would cause spoilage.

What can I do with preserved lemons? ›

Pop them whole into stews; add thin-sliced slivers into drinks; or mince them up for earthier pasta sauces. Before use, rinse to tame the saltiness and be sure to discard the seeds; because of the fermentation process, the rind and pith are fine to consume and will taste the same as the flesh.

Which part of preserved lemon to use? ›

Both the flesh and rind of preserved lemons are edible. Preserved lemons that are cut before they're preserved will absorb more salt than those that are packed whole. Some recipes call for discarding the super-salty flesh and using only the rind or for rinsing the preserved lemon before cooking with it.

Why did my preserved lemons go Mouldy? ›

These will turn mushy or worse—moldy—if you don't submerge them completely in liquid. If you do encounter white mold on the surface of the liquid as these ferment, just scrape it off. The lemons will be fine.

Can I use coarse salt for preserved lemons? ›

There are different variations to the recipe (with peppercorns, with bay leaves, with cloves or with cinnamon; even with olive oil, amongst Moroccan Jews), but a very simple, authentic recipe involves only lemons and coarse salt.

Can you vacuum seal preserved lemons? ›

Preserved lemons can also be prepared using sous-vide technique. Divide the lemons, salt and spices evenly amongst 3 small vacuum sealing bags. Place into the vacuum sealing drawer and Seal on setting 3 and Vacuum on setting 3.

How do you know if preserved lemons have gone bad? ›

Tell-tale signs that your preserved lemons have spoiled includes a foul smell that's different from their usual fermented, citrusy aroma, a slimy or excessively soft texture, or the presence of mold. In these cases, it's safer to discard the preserved lemons.

Should you refrigerate preserved lemons? ›

Jars of preserved lemons can keep for months in the refrigerator and may develop a deeper pickled flavor and softer texture over time. “Shake the jar now and then to keep the lemons moist; otherwise, the salt may rise to the top and form a crust,” says Sahadi Whelan.

Do preserved lemons go out of date? ›

According to various cookbooks,the shelf life ranges from 6 months to one year to indefinitely. The lemons were preserved with a couple of bay leaves,coriander seeds and black peppercorns.

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