They're very easy to make at home, I use Patricia Wells's recipe from her Provence cookbook, though you won't be able to use them in your recipe until they're, well, preserved, after a couple of weeks. You could try subbing fresh lemon but you won't have the same luscious texture as the preserved version.
I also discovered preserved lemons from Patricia Wells’ AT HOME IN PROVENCE, easily one of the best cookbooks ever published. (That book changed my approach to cooking.) Do start preserving them yourself; it is so easy and after you try it the first time and start to use them, you will always want to have some preserved lemons in your fridge.
Here is the recipe (I always double it):
2 lemons, preferably organic
1/3 cup Coarse Sea Salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
About 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Scrub the lemons and dry them well. Cut each lemon lengthwise into 8 wedges. In a bowl, toss the lemon wedges, salt and lemon juice to coat the fruit. Transfer to a 2-cup glass container with a non-metal lid. Close the container tightly and let the lemons ripen at room temperature for 7 days. She the container daily to evenly distribute the salt and juices. To store, add olive oil to cover and keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
I use the juices from the container in salad dressings, marinades, etc. My favorite way to roast a chicken, now, is to rub the insides and outside of a chicken with the juices, along with garlic, herbs and salt, and put a few of the lemons inside the cavity with an onion as well. Yum. You can use the juices to spread on fish or chicken before grilling, even a steak. And I love to chop up the lemons themselves and add them to couscous or salads made of grains and vegetables. There are so many uses for them. Do give it a try!
I tried to preserve whole lemons in a large canning jar last year - and they appeared to grow mold! It was really gross, after a few months my roommate insisted I throw them out. I can't remember where I got the recipe. Is it because my container was really huge, so I didn't fill it all the way to the top with olive oil? Or could it be because I didn't refrigerate?
on average there are 110 cases per year of botulism. it is extremely rare. these lemons are not "canned", in the traditional sense, but the "sealing" is done with the olive oil, much like submerging duck in fat for confit. that creates the anaerobic environment which, if not contaminated later, is very safe.
i use the wolfert method also. it's based on an ancient technique, invented long before refrigeration or "canning baths".
re: Carrie 218
Point taken - but we're not talking about duck, we're talking about lemons. As Nettie says (below) lemons are obviously a good bit more acidic and the salt is far superior to fat in preservation. As long as the lemons are covered by liquid (juice) they should be fine. And in terms of historical "ancient" ways, I can't remember the last time and archaeologist unearthed a mason jar ;-)
The recipe I use doesn't call for any olive oil, but for a lot more salt, and I've never had a problem with mold. But I always sterilize the jars, scrub the lemons, and cut off a small piece on the ends (so there's no residue from the stem or blossom).
I've botulism is a problem with garlic in olive oil because garlic grows in the ground and is dirtier, plus you're creating a low-acid anaerobic environment. With lemons you've got an anaerobic environment, but I would think it's pretty acidic.
I've used Paula Wolfert's recipe from 'Slow Mediterranean'. Part of the mold problem is using your hands -- she is very specific about pushing the lemons into the glass with a wooden spoon. I have talked with her about this and yes, mold can develop because of the handling of the lemons. Even when you extract the lemons later, use tongs and not fingers.
Her recipe does not indicate the need for refrigeration unless you want to age them up to a year. In that case, she says to add olive oil for the longer storage.
And, Doberlady, there really is no substitute for your recipe. Preserved lemons just have an amazing taste that cannot be replicated with anything else.
The oil itself develops a wonderful flavour and can be used in salads and in recipes generally. Between the salt, the acid, and refrigerated storage, botulism isn't much of a worry. However, the lemons do develop mould over time, even in the fridge. You can inhibit mould by increasing salt, but they don't taste nearly as good when hyper salted. The more handling, the greater the chance of rapid moulding, but they mould eventually even with careful handling.
Preserved with salt only, they seem to keep indefinitely, even at room temperature. Most Chinese stores sell these preserved lemons in jars. But they don't taste nearly as good as the oil variety.
I've made them several times. I've seen lots of different recipes with fancy additions (herbs, oil, etc.). However, the most useful and most simple preparation makes a wonderful product that can be used in loads of recipes. Here's the recipe:
Clean Jar with tight fitting lid
Wash the lemons. Slice from the top (point) down through each lemon but not all the way through creating 6-8 wedges all still connected at the base.
Sprinkle salt into each lemon openning up each wedge to coat inside the lemon well.
Fit as many of these lemons as you can into your jar. Leave a little room so you can shake them around a bit.
Add the salt and tumble the jar as you do the first 1/2 cup or so... making sure the salt covers all the lemons well. Fill the jar with salt.
Let it sit for a month. Check it weekly by adding more salt to cover any lemon bits sticking out at the top. The mixture will create lots of liquid. Just leave it.
After a month they are ready. Pull out a wedge (the will easily pull apart from each other), discard the lemon flesh and slice off a bit of the peel. Taste it. You can use the peel straight or rinse in water.
Additions to the basic recipe I've seen:
Dill, peppercorns, parsley, juniper berries, allspice.
Hope I don't get in trouble for posting the recipe in this way?
Tagine of Salmon with Capers and Preserved Lemons
Source: Ladies' Home Journal
Prep: 40 min.
Cook: 20 min.
3/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
6 salmon fillets (8 oz. each), skinned
Pinch saffron threads
1/2 cup warm water
1-1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 cup thinly sliced fennel
3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
2 preserved lemons,* coarsely chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped plum tomato
1/4 cup capers, drained
1/4 cup slivered green olives
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Make Herb Rub: Combine all rub ingredients in bowl. Arrange salmon fillets on sheet of wax paper. Pat half of Herb Rub over tops.
3. Stir saffron into warm water in cup; let stand 5 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients, except couscous, in an 11x17-inch roasting pan. Stir in saffron mixture. Arrange fillets, herb side down, 1 inch apart on top of vegetables. Pat remaining Herb Rub over tops of fillets.
4. Cover roasting pan with foil; bake 20 to 25 minutes or until fillets are opaque in center. Remove from oven; let stand 5 minutes. Transfer salmon to six plates. Serve with vegetables, pan juices and couscous. Makes 6 servings.