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Preserved lemons?

I have never had a preserved lemon and can't find them outside of mail order. What can I use instead? It's to be used in a salmon recipe:

Tagine of Salmon with Capers and Preserved Lemons

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  1. 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.

    1. If you're anywhere near Houston, you can get them at Phoenicia on Westheimer.

      1. 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!

        1. 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?

          1 Reply
          1. re: dubedo

            did you wash the lemons first? leaving them whole also may have been a factor. the pieces need to be submerged in the liquid.

          2. Thanks for the recipe!! Sooooo easy. I have never had them but I loveeeeee lemons. Question: so the olive oil listed is to be used to cover after the 7 days and you do not add the 1/2 cup as part of the initial liquid?

            Wonder if I can use slices instead of wedges.

            1. olive oil goes on afterwards, as kind of a "lid" over the lemons. slices or wedges, make no difference-- you only use the peel anyway, and since the flavor is so strong, recipes usually call for them in small dice.

              1. Hmm, I'd be hesitant to add the olive oil at any time. If you have a top to your jar, I don't really see a reason... and I do see a good reason NOT to add it. Botulism.

                5 Replies
                1. re: HaagenDazs

                  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".

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Well, my thought is why is the oil necessary?

                    1. re: HaagenDazs

                      Longer preservation as it will provide a better seal atop the lemons. As Hotoynoodle indicated -- like in a confit.

                      1. 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 ;-)

                    2. re: hotoynoodle

                      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.

                  2. 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.

                    1. 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.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: embee

                        i've been making and storing these things at least 10 years, and have never had a mold issue, even after well more than 6 months in the fridge. if anything they disintegrate too much, so i toss them.

                      2. ok so I decided I need to make something else since I do not have them. I am going to try making them myself by the recipe posted and see what happens.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: doberlady

                          Where I live (Toronto), they are readily available at middle eastern stores.

                        2. Could you post a summary description of the recipe? It's sounds delicious, and I happen to have a preserved lemon in the frig. And capers.

                          1. 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:

                            Kosher Salt
                            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.


                            Vickie McCorkendale

                            1. I would love to post the recipe but am unclear as to the rules here for that. What do you mean by summary?

                              1. 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.

                                HERB RUB
                                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
                                Hot couscous

                                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.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: doberlady

                                  Many thanks for this--it sounds delicious! I don't know what the rules are either, but sometimes people just post a rough ingredient list and some brief instructions -- not a lot of detail, but enough. This is great for me, though --

                                  1. re: doberlady

                                    This sounds delicious, but have you ever calculated the sodium content? Six portions using 2 preserved lemons, that is 3 TBS salt for the lemons alone.

                                    Is it healthy to eat a large amount of Preserved Lemons @ 1.5 TBS

                                    1. re: Fleur

                                      most of the sodium remains in the jar. the salt isn't being absorbed by the lemons -- it acts by leeching the water from the fruit, thereby concentrating the sugars. further, many recipes call for rinsing the peels before using.