Is it me or are preserved lemons the skinny jeans of the culinary scene? They may not be for everyone, but for those with a tangy, salty, slightly astringent zest for food, they’re the perfect fit. While traditionally these are seen in Middle Eastern dishes, you’ll find that they’re incredibly versatile lending themselves well to pastas, salads, stews, risottos, pretty much anywhere you want some savory zestiness. I, (like many people, like to use Meyer lemons for this recipe cuz not only do they have a super thin skin with almost no bitter pith so you can gobble it right up, they also have a slight sweetness since they’re a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange that goes great with sweet (Meyer lemon curd, anyone), savory (Did you say risotto?), or anywhere in between preparations. The pickling brine comes from Georgeanne Brennan’s The Glass Pantry which gives it an extra depth from the spices but I’ve also seen them prepared with plain old salt packing and additional lemon juice as needed to keep them submerged so nothing can grow on them. Since we’re just a 2 person household (dew claws don’t count in this instance ;)) I’ve cut the recipe in half to make two 500 ml jars cuz even after the 1-2 month waiting period, a little goes a long way and this seems to be enough to last us till the following Meyer lemon season rolls around. I’ve also doubled the salt to help them keep longer, even with twice the salt, they’re still much less briny that the salt packed variety.
Why didn’t you tell me sooner?
1) How to pick ripe Meyer lemons? As with many fruit, the heavier it is per volume the juicier and riper the lemon. Also, Meyer lemons become more orangey with ripeness as you can see in the photos below, they have a pale orange skin with light orange flesh.
2) How do I keep my lemons from floating above the pickling brine? That definitely has been the bane of my existence but I think I’ve conquered this universal problem. First, try to find canning jars that have “shoulders” like the ones I’ve used where there’s a little flat area between the curve of the side and the neck of the container. This helps to create a bottleneck where the lemons can get wedged so they don’t float up to the top as they ferment and release gases. Secondly, when quartering each half of the lemon, don’t cut all the way through so that they’re still connected by 1-inch at the end like below, this makes them more flexible for wedging into position.
3) Hate fishing for spices in molten liquid like you’re panning for gold on Mercury? I like to use an oblong spice infuser which works with small spices like cloves but also long herbs like parsley which can be folded for bouquet garni. This way, you can infuse your liquid while the infuser is safely attached to the rim of the pot with a hooked chain making it easy to pull out when you’re done. While you can also use a cheesecloth bag, I find it kind of icky how it discolors over time and not only are metal infusers easy to clean, they last for a really long time.
1 bay leaf, cut in half
1/2 tsp ground coriander or coriander seeds
6 dried cloves
4-inch stick cinnamon, in half lengthwise
5 c water
1 c sea salt
5 ripe Meyer lemons
2 500ml (~2 1/4c) canning jars
1/2 c lemon juice if needed
Place bay leaf, coriander, cloves, and cinnamon in a spice infuser or cheesecloth bag. In a ~2 quart pot combine water, salt, and spice infuser then bring to a boil then turn off heat. Watch closely as this can boil over easily and make a mess on your nice clean stovetop. Set spice infuser aside to cool, keeping contents to divide among the canning jars then remove the brine from heat till cool enough to handle ~15-20 minutes.
Wash the lemons and gently scrub the skin clean with a vegetable brush. Cut each lemon in half lengthwise and then quarter each half but don’t cut all the way through, leaving them attached by ~1-inch on the ends. Pack half of the lemons into each canning jar.
Add half of the spices from the spice infuser to each jar, you can just wedge them between the lemons. Using a funnel, pour brine equally into each canning jar so that the lemons are completely submerged. If you do not have enough pickling brine, add lemon juice to cover. Wipe the jar lids with a clean paper towel and seal. For the first 2 weeks I like to smush the lemons down with a clean spoon every 3-4 days to keep them submerged as well as to release the gases produced as they ferment. Store in a cool dark place (basements are perfect for this, otherwise a cabinet or pantry not near a heating vent) and let the lemons infuse for 1-2 months before using. Makes 1 liter (two 500 ml jars). Once you’ve started using them, store the jar in the fridge where it should keep for at least 6 months depending on how cold your fridge is (I have a very nice, cold Subzero compliments of Criagslist :))