It's worth it.
Until recently, preserved lemons turned up mostly in Moroccan tagines and other North Africans stews, as well as some Middle Eastern dishes. But they’re definitely migrating to take their place in a well-stocked multi-ethnic home pantry. The jarred versions—and there are definitely some good ones out there—are often so long preserved that their flavor becomes a bit acrid, intensely bitter and rocketfuel-esque. So if you’re at all a lemonhead, you’ll definitely want to start making your own.
At its most traditional, this means cutting whole lemons, rubbing them all over with coarse salt, and then packing them in a jar with salt and lemon juice to cover. You leave them at room temperature for 4 or 5 weeks to ferment, and then you can refrigerate them until you use them up. Another bonus of making your own preserved lemons is that the pulp, which so many recipes tell you to scrape out and discard, is actually fantastic for muddling into cocktails, pureeing into dips, adding to soups, sauces and stews, and mixing into your next pot of greens.
Here are just two examples of how to make preserved lemons:
Preserved Lemons: This is the classic version. Simple and effective.
Lemon Confit: Chef Eric Ripert's lemon confit uses a sugar-salt mix. "I add lemon confit to so many dishes—from broiled fish to pork and beans," he says. He blends his lemon confit with butter to add a pleasantly pungent flavor to a broiled snapper. Before broiling, he dots some of the lemon butter on the fish, then serves more lemon butter on the side.
Once you've mastered the preserved lemons, here are a few suggestions for what to do with them:
Broccoli with Preserved Lemon Yogurt: We loved this recipe so much we put it on the cover of the magazine! Of course the broccoli is fantastic, but it’s the yogurt sauce flavored with preserved lemon that’s the star. Once you make it, you’ll want to eat it on everything, from grilled bread and eggplant and okra, to shrimp or chicken kebabs, to lamb meatballs and baked white and sweet potatoes or squash.
Roasted Peppers with Preserved Lemon and Capers: In this typical Middle Eastern dish, preserved lemon offsets the sweetness of the peppers and adds an exotic dimension to the simply cooked vegetables.
Pan-Seared Cod with Preserved Lemon Aioli: Obviously lemon and fish go together like peanut butter and jelly, but the best takeaway from this recipe and the following one, besides the perfect fish cooking technique, are the super versatile sauces—the preserved lemon aioli that will up your sandwich game immensely and become your go-to mayo.
Trout with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette: This quick dish from chef Viet Pham features trout fillets in a bright and tangy vinaigrette—which will quickly become the dressing for all of your grain and green salads this season.
Couscous with Red Lentils and Easy Preserved Lemons: If you’ve only got 20 minutes, this clever almost-instant take on preserved lemons is definitely worth a shot. It’s not traditional by any means, but it’s the perfect gateway to the real thing.