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making preserved lemons- why must they be whole? and other queries....

I've been making preserved lemons from my meyer lemons for years, and wonder if there is room to "hack" the recipe. For instance, I have a half lemon I would like to add
( okay, I cut off a moldy part that will probably increase the risk of a problem, but that's not the point). Is there any reason, besides visual appeal, that it would not work? Also, my meyers are "precious" to me; Can I use other lemon juice to cover, or is there a reason the lemon juice should be the same as the preserved lemon? Also, is there any reason to use a thin skinned meyer, vs something more widely available? What are the pros and cons of adding spices or oil? My canning lid got a little corroded last year. Should I line it with plastic wrap? Should I be using "new" lids? Why? ( I keep my preserved lemons in the refrigerator).

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  1. What do you use your preserved lemons for?

    I'm not an expert on preserved lemons but I made some about 3 years ago and have been maintaining the batch since. Knowing how corrosive salt and lemon juice is I use a glass jar with the glass lid and rubber seal. The lid attached by a wire 'harness'.

    I think I used organic lemons to start but haven't been strict about the type of lemon used to top up the juice or add to the jar. I'll top up the jar with an extra half a lemon with juice or salt or extra everyonce in a while.

    When I use preserved lemons I only use a small piece of lemon rind, rinsed before use. I'm not sure why the lemons have to be whole.

    I keep my jar of preserved lemons on the counter.

    1. 1 It's very traditional to keep the lemons whole, probably just for ease of handling, but I have seen them cut into quarters, attached at the stem end. It might be one of those "the way it's always been done" things.
      2 I would think you can use any lemon juice to cover.
      3 You can use any lemon variety. I prefer organic, no pesticides.
      4 Oil is never added. It may interfere with the preserving process. What type of spices are you talking about? Salt and lemon will probably outflavor any herb or spice, save chilis or peppercorns, but you will have an adulterated product which will alter the flavor of any dish you make with the lemons.
      5 Kosher salt is the salt to use. I know you didn't ask that, just thought I'd throw it out there.
      6 Change your lid if it's corroded. A nice glass jar with glass lid and bale wire is the way to go.
      7 Preserved lemons don't necessarily have to be refrigerated but it's ok to do it, if you see fit.

      1. I have made preserved lemons with all types of lemons including meyers and the most accessible Eureka. For me, what is important that the lemons are not waxed. So that I can pack as many lemons into a glass preserving jar and to save on juice, I cut the lemons into quarters and process with kosker salt and cover with lemon juice. With the large amount of salt and the long processing time, what type of lemon juice doesn't matter. I use standard metal canning lids, therefore to keep them from corroding, I do line the lids with plastic shrink wrap. I have used the 'European' style hinged rubber gaskin, glass top and those need no plastic shrink wrap. I refrigerate the jars for longer keeping. One thing I always try to do is use clean utensils and never my fingers to remove what I need. That is just my paranoia about contamination.

        1. Thanks everyone! I have not used oil or spices, but I have seen recipes that do. I tend to use my preserved lemons chopped, with parsley in a sort of relish, with seafood, but I use them other ways as well.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Shrinkrap

            Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons and olives?

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              On occasion, but my husband is not a fan, so....

          2. I am about to make my first ever batch of preserved lemons. I have bought a generic jar from the supermarket - but have no idea whether this on its own will make a proper seal. There appears to be a tiny bit of rubber on the lid, where the glass would make contact - but canot say whether this would be sufficient to make a seal, especially since these lemons are meant to keep for a year.. I'd hate for it all to spoil..

            I've attached a couple of pics so you can see what I mean.
            Will these jars be OK as they are, or do I need to do something more to ensure a proper seal?

            Appreciate any comments.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Mud Shark

              I don't believe preserved lemons require the kind of seal you need for "canning" preserves and storing them without refrigeration. I keep mine in the refrigerator BTW. Does your recipe suggest "hot water bath" canning or refrigeration?

              1. re: Shrinkrap

                All my recipe suggests is that the jar be washed in hot soapy water then allowed to dry. It gives no specific instructions regarding the method/seal.. It also states that the jar should be left in a dry, dark cupboard for storage - nothing about refrigeration.

                1. re: Mud Shark

                  I find using a jar with "shoulders" is best. They help keep the lemons submerged. I use the type jar with a gasket and a metal hinge which keeps the lid attached to the jar.

                  My process keeps the lemons on the counter for a month with daily gentle agitation. After that they go in the fridge. I've never had any problems. I do keep the entire process very sanitary - blanch the lemons quickly, use gloves, freshly washed jar. I also use gloves when removing a lemon or part of during cooking. Some of my batches have lasted several years with no sign of deterioration.

                  It is a very easy process once you've done it once or so. And the reward of having these beauties to cook with is more than worth the half hour or so expended in making them.

              1. Here's some really fine preserved lemons from Tigress in a Pickle. I particularly liked the Maghreb Lemons.

                And this is a bounty of citrus from the January Can Jam round up. Some really nice preserved lemons in there as well.

                3 Replies
                1. re: morwen

                  Wow, those are amazing!

                  I usually have an annual chili jam "jam/', but maybe I'll do lemons this year!

                  1. re: morwen

                    I'm going to try these, they look mouth watering!

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      Hubby was on meds for a year that really ripped up his stomach. A mild white fish or piece of chicken breast sprinkled with the Maghreb lemons and dill or thyme as appropriate, wrapped in foil and baked, was simple, satisfied his need for flavor, and didn't provoke his tummy. We liked it so much that it's still in the rotation.

                  2. Here's the recipe I've used.
                    2 lemons cut into 8 wedges each. Add 2 1/2 T kosher salt or coarse salt and1tsp sugar;mix lightly. Place in a wide mouth jar with a tight fitting lid. Mix in 1/4 cup lemon juice, cover tightly and let stand at room temp for 1 week, shaking the jar once a day. Before using mix in 1/2 cup olive oil, Store in the refrigerator up to 6 months, add more oil as needed. Use in a dish with tuna, capers and capellini, lemon pasta dish with angel and basil and parsley.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      My recipe called for slicing them almost through (short ways, into round slices) but leaving a backbone so all the slices are connected together. I've never done them with whole lemons. I think you could cut them however you wanted.

                      1. re: chef chicklet

                        Once, first time I made them, I put them in a glass jar, did as chef c. did above, except for the olive oil. Eventually, a white film formed and I worried about it. I took it to a chef/owner of a Moroccan restaurant and he assured me it was fine. Later, I read about it in a mediterranean cookbook, that it was harmless but that it's better to keep in ceramic (not see thru) container. It said to add olive oil, so I do that now, too. Maybe it was Wolfert's book? I can't remember. (After that first week of daily shaking, I put it in fridge.)

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          Any theories about what purpose oil might serve? Bushwickgirl, in January, said "oil is never added"; but some recipes (cultures?) add oil. Why or why not?

                          1. re: Shrinkrap

                            I think it's supposed to keep the mold from growing. I refrigerate mine, personally.

                            1. re: Shrinkrap

                              I read somewhere that it may interfere with the preserving process (in preserved lemon recipes). I doubt whether adding oil will prevent any spoilage; salt and lemon juice are great preservatives for doing that. I refrigerate the lemons after the first month of brining. I believe I use either Claudia Roden's or Paula Wolfert's recipe; I've been making them for a very long time and don't remember who's recipe I started with. The procedures between both authors are probably pretty much the same.

                              Claudia Roden has an oil-pickled lemon in her "The New Book of Middle Eastern Food" as well as salt brine pickled lemons and preserved lemons. Her preserved lemon recipe does not use oil, just salt and lemon juice. The white mold, which I've never had occur, is harmless (says Ms. Roden).

                              Her oil pickled lemons are sliced thinly, salted and allowed to drain, then layered with paprika and covered with a neutral flavored oil; definitely different from preserved lemons, and ready in a few days.

                          2. I've made preserved lemons for years also, but never found a recipe that called for leaving them whole. I always quarter my lemons after washing them, then just add lemons and salt in layers in a clean jar, top with lemon juice lid, and store in a dark place a couple weeks before using. When I take some out, I just re-lid the rest and put it back in the dark.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: KiltedCook

                              By whole I meant ALMOST quartered, leaving them connected at the tip.

                              1. re: Shrinkrap

                                Ah. No, I don't think that strip of peel connecting the quarters has any purpose besides holding the pieces together.

                            2. Hope it's ok to ask a tag-along question: how do you keep the lemons from floating above the juice in the jar? All the recipes I've looked at emphasize that they need to be covered, but mine float slightly above the surface even though I've packed them tightly.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Transplant_DK

                                If you use a jar with "shoulders", which taper towards the opening, they will stay submerged better. A straight-sided jar will not hold them down as well.

                                Taking a few moments to place them carefully in your jar helps. I find arranging them sideways helps them stay put in my jar much better than having them arranged with stem side up.

                              2. Yay! Its that time of year again! Lemons on the tree!

                                1. I used the lemon pieces left over from a party, froze them until I was ready to deal with them, then added salt and lemon juice to the thawed pieces. Freezing helps them pickle faster. If I'm using a metal lid, a bit of plastic wrap between the lid and the pickle helps prevent corrosion.

                                  1. I'm preserving some lemons and kumquats right now. I think salt and acid are the ultimate preservatives, before we had refrigeration this was the treatment. I think these things are pretty much shelf stable for a really long time. Anyone had them spoil? Furthermore I wonder if refrigeration would hinder the process?

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: Carmelizedbunions

                                      i use cut lemons and use the wolfert "quick" method. they sit on the counter for 7 days, but then i do store them in the fridge. have never had them go off.

                                      1. re: Carmelizedbunions

                                        I made two jars a few months ago and kept them on the counter. One went seriously moldy, the other was fine. I assumed it was just one of those freak, airborne things, but put the good jar in the fridge anyway. They were fully preserved when I moved them to the fridge, however, so I doubt it did anything to hinder the (already completed) process.

                                        1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                                          BBL, how do you know when they're fully preserved? i started a batch (my first one) 9 days ago, on the counter (dark spot) and put them in the fridge on the 7th day. i haven't opened them yet. they don't look translucent, like i've heard some say they should.... the water looks very thick...

                                          1. re: mariacarmen

                                            MC, just take out the top lemon from one of the jars, open up the lemon 'petals', and have a look-see at the peel, from the side. If you don't see any white 'pith anymore, they are ready. By translucent, what I mean. at least, is when you look at the lemon peel it reminds you a bit of candied lemon peel, or what like thick cut marmelade peel looks like - not raw.

                                            The salted lemon juice penetrates all the way through the peel and transforms how it looks.

                                            Weren't we all just talking about preserved lemons on a different thread like - just last week?

                                              1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                Yup - I see you posted there as well.

                                              2. re: gingershelley

                                                thanks, gs, will do! and actually, i didn't read that whole thread before i started mine - good tips there, if these don't turn out...

                                          2. re: Carmelizedbunions

                                            Mine stay out on the counter for a year or more in Northern California. They've been fine.

                                          3. So I've been reading a couple of the preserved lemon threads, and one thing I don't think I've seen is a very good description of how these things should taste and smell.

                                            Made my first batch ever on July 5th using Claudia Roden's method of 1 tbsp. of salt per lemon, then adding more juice to cover after a few days (I also added a little extra salt with the juice, just in case). Only deviated from the recipe by cutting the lemons all the way into fourths instead of leaving them connected at the stem---they just weren't fitting in my container until I separated the segments.

                                            Anyhow, I'm 3/4ths of the way through the month. They look great, show no evidence of mold or anything, but they're still releasing gas when I open the container, and smell...not bad, but a little boozy and fermented. Is this normal? Roden doesn't mention it, and most comments online seem to suggest the gas fades after a couple weeks.

                                            And when it comes time to taste next week, does anyone have any descriptions more specific than "salty and citrusy"? Do they remind you of anything else?

                                            Lastly, has anyone tried Michael Ruhlman's method? I believe he just buries a dozen halved lemons in a couple pounds of salt---which at the very least would have to end most any concern about food-borne illnesses.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                                              I made a batch last month; quartered and covered in kosher salt and table sugar in (IIRC) a 2:1 ratio. Just threw 'em in a clean pickle jar and let them sit in a dark corner, flipping them from time to time. After a month, they were ready and before used, I rinse and soak them in water to get the salt out.

                                              I'd describe them as pleasantly lemony-bitter, with a slightly (but not unpleasantly) soapy taste. It's a beautiful thing.