Having a huge batch of duck confit tucked into the back of my refrigerator for six or so months gave a me a feeling of deep satisfaction and pride. It also caused my foot to start tapping anxiously, with me itching to crack into the solid white fat.
Having a large vat of preserved lemons always at the ready in your fridge will fill you with a similar sense of accomplishment without any of the niggling impatience. The most you'll be waiting is one little month, and if done right you might be flush with preserved lemons for a year.
Preserved lemons add a decidedly Moroccan flavor to any dish. You've probably encountered recipes for lamb shanks with prunes and preserved lemons, or chicken with olives and preserved lemons. Those dishes are fantastic, but you needn't always work that hard to enjoy the flavor of these beauties.
They add a wonderful salty tanginess to sautéed vegetables like spinach. They quickly add depth of character to a simple lemon vinaigrette. The lemons lend an exotic perfume when paired with capers on roasted fish. I've even read of people adding them to lemon ice cream!
I find preserved lemons to be endlessly useful in the kitchen. When I discover that my planned meal seems a bit humdrum, I turn to these lemons and everything -- the flavors and my spirits -- begins to perk up.
When your batch of preserved lemons is young, in its first few months, you might try using the flesh in your dishes. Some even say the juice from the fruit adds a bracing kick to a Bloody Mary. I can't vouch for this, but it does sound exciting. As they mature, you'll want to use the rind exclusively, discarding the flesh, and thinly slicing or finely chopping the rind.
There is no point in making a piddling batch of just four or five lemons. Do it right, and make an ample jug full of lemons. They should last up to a year. They'll keep in your pantry, but somehow I feel more confident with them in the refrigerator.
All you need is a heap of lemons, preferably the sweeter, thinner-skinned Meyers, but any lemons will do (all I've used is the common Eureka lemon, and I am definitely not complaining), a substantial amount of kosher salt, and a large wide-mouthed canning-type jar with a tight-fitting lid.
Some folks sterilize the jars. Will you forever doubt me, if I confess that sterilizing has me confounded? Probably. But no matter. Alice Waters, whom I trust on almost all topics, doesn't seem to bother sterilizing and neither did I. It's not just Waters. I'd say about fifty percent of the conversations and recipes that I researched were for sterilizing with the other half not. There's no debate about it. Some do and some don't. That's all. At the very least wash with lots of soap and very very hot water.
The process is really quite simple. You essentially tamp lemons full of salt, stuff them in a jar until they are as snug and cozy as possible, and make sure after a few days they are drowning in juice. You wait for a month or so and then enjoy.
To help in the motivation department, I'll be posting a few great recipes using your preserved lemons over the next week or so.
And by the way, these homemade preserved lemons are worlds better than the jarred ones that you might find at your local fancy-pants cheese shop. Just saying.
Lemons (enough to fill a big jar)
Wide-mouth jar with tight lid
Scrub the lemons thoroughly. Cut them in quarters, without cutting all the way through the stem end. Pack each lemon full of kosher salt. Pour a thin layer of salt in the bottom of the jar and then layer in the salt-packed lemons, pouring in some extra salt after each layer. Press down on the lemons with a metal spoon to help release some of the juices. When the jar is stuffed with lemons, add a final layer of salt and seal the jar. Leave on the counter for a few days to allow the lemon juices to release. You may turn the jar on its sides to help moisten all the lemons. If after 3 or 4 days, the lemons are not submerged, add additional lemon juice to cover. Store in the refrigerator or the pantry for a month or longer and then enjoy.
The lemons should keep for up to 1 year.