Thursday, February 28, 2013

Preserving Meyer Lemons

At the time that I was introduced to this recipe I had yet to break out of my classic culinary training and realize my own voice in the kitchen. Sharon, one of the owners of a restaurant that I eventually became the chef of, had a very natural and honest approach to food. A philosophy, which, at the time, was still relatively adolescent in the culinary scene in California.
On an early week day of menial prep and menu planning for the week, I found myself uninspired and tired of my usual tricks. At a stand-still with my creativity, Sharon suggested I take a break and help her preserve some meyer lemons while searching for inspiration. The activity of salt packing lemons in a big glass jar and stashing them away in a dark nook of kitchen waiting for their transformation was such a mysterious activity. My attention had been captured even if I did not realize it for another 6 months.
This recipe, which I still use to this day, was one of many old world recipes which opened my eyes to the wonders of traditional culinary practices. Recipes created out of necessity rather than entertaining trends. The  romance of a few quality ingredients mingling with science and time to create a unique food matched by no modern technique. With the intrigue and respect I developed for these traditions my own voice became clear as I continued my culinary profession.

What You Will Need
2 lbs. Meyer lemons (around 10-12 lemons. 8 for preserving and a 2 to 4 for juicing if needed)
2/3 Cup Morton's or Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Quart jar or Crock (preferably with a lid)

First and foremost you want to make sure your lemons are scrubbed and jar or crock is sanitized. A nice soak of warm water and a gentle scrub for the lemons is fine. Your goal is to get rid of any dust or grime that might be on the surface of your lemons. Rinse well and set aside in a bowl.
Sanitize your preserving vessel by scrubbing with hot soapy water. Rinse well and drain. No need to dry.

Prepping the lemons
  • Trim off any green or woody part on the stem end. All we want to preserve is supple flesh.
  • Your goal is to quarter the lemon while still leaving the quarters connected by a half inch at the stem end: Holding the lemon by the stem end horizontally against your cutting board insert a pairing knife into the lemon 1/2 inch below the stem end cutting through the lemon to the tip. Turn the lemon a 1/4 rotation and repeat the cut leaving you with a quartered lemon with the quarters still connected at the stem end. Repeat this step until all the lemons you are preserving have been cut.                                      NOTE: Do not bother removing any seeds. They do no harm during the process of preserving and will be removed as you prepare your lemons for eating after they have cured. Many seeds will fall by the wayside during all of the squeezing, packing and handling anyway. 

  • Hold each lemon over a medium size bowl and gently squeeze to begin yielding the juice. I say 'gently' for the cuts in the lemon will squirt juice any which way if aggressively squeezed. Don't worry about completely juicing the lemon. More juice will be extracted as you pack them in your jar/ crock. All you want to do is collect some of the juice in your bowl to dissolve your salt.
  • As you juice your preserving lemons return them to your cutting board before we get to salting and packing them.
  • Once all your lemons are squeezed, one at a time open each lemon and sprinkle a healthy pinch of the kosher salt into the cavity. After adding salt into the cavity place the lemon in your jar so it rests horizontal to the bottom of container. This is mostly to utilize space and your lemon juice brine solution but it does not need to be perfect.
  • As you start to build up a few lemons use the handle end of a whisk, ice cream scoop or a wooden spoon to gently pack the lemons down into the container. This will release more juice, remove airspace and allow you to fit more lemons into your jar.

  • Once all of your lemons are packed snugly into your container. Add the remaining salt to the bowl of lemon juice yielded from the squeezing.
  • Mix the salt and lemon juice to begin to dissolve. Don't bother trying to fully dissolve the salt. In time it will dissolve as the lemons cure.
  • Pour the lemon juice and salt mixture into your container holding the lemons.
  • You may see that this juice/ salt mixture does not come close to covering your lemons. This is where you will need to juice your reserved lemons to yield enough juice to cover your preserve.
  • Juice more lemons as needed (reserving these lemons for another purpose) , pour juice into jar until lemons are covered by 1/4 inch.
  • To ensure your lemons are submerged in the brine you might need to cap off  or weigh down the lemons with a ceramic ramekin, shot glass or food grade piece of plastic with a sterilized river stone on top (if using a stone, scrub and boil for 5 minutes or wash stone and seal in a zip locking baggie). Your main concern is to have your lemons submerged in the brine and be able to fit your lid on top or seal with a doubled piece of plastic wrap secured with string or a rubber band.
A nifty tip written up
by Favero over at
Wild Fermentation.
Food grade plastic lid is the
beginning of a "kraut collar".

  • Let your lemons sit out at room temperature overnight or for 8 hours to encourage the salt to dissolve.
  • After 8 hours check the jar of lemons to make sure they are submerged. If not remove lid and press the lemons packing them into the jar/ crock. Before placing in a dark cool place to preserve give the jar a shake or pack to mix the salt that may have settled on the bottom of the jar back into the brine. It will settle again in time and this is perfectly fine. After this step you are set.
  • Place your jar of lemons in dark, cool place (under sink, pantry cupboard, in a bag in garage) for 2 weeks to cure. Check them frequently to make sure the lemons remain submerged in the brine. After 2 week your lemons will be cured and ready to use. At this time keep your jar of lemons in your refrigerator for up to 6 months as you use them. 
Note: If you are uncomfortable with curing your lemons at room temperature for 2 weeks you and alternately put them straight into your refrigerator after the initial 8 hours at room temperature. The only difference will be the curing time. For this method allow 3-4 weeks for your lemons to fully cure before using them.

To  Use Preserved Lemons
Once your lemons are preserved and ready to use the possibilities are as endless as your imagination and craving for a briny, lemony bite.
  • After removing a lemon from the jar rinse it under cold water allowing the water to rinse off the excess brine from the interior and exterior of the lemon. This is not necessary but does mellow the saltiness of the lemon. As you begin to rinse and cut your lemons you will want to make sure you remove all of the seeds left in the lemons.
  • All of the lemon (interior membrane, rind and zest) is edible and each element has its own flavor and texture. It is really all up to taste. For most preparations as a garnish or using the lemon in a condiment such as a relish you will want to remove the inner membrane from the lemon (put it back in your jar for another use later or discard) and finely chop the lemon's skin (rind and zest). Again, it is up to taste and the appearance you want your finished preparation to look like. So leave the lemons whole and cut them up for a flavorful taste and rustic look.

Suggestions And Recipes

Finely chopped preserved lemons alone are a great accompaniment to a variety of foods and dishes; Sprinkle over fish or mix into a seafood stew - garnish creamy vegetable soups like pureed  roasted cauliflower and roasted eggplant soups or thick and hearty soups like split pea and ham or cumin black bean. Accompany a cheese platter pairing with a ripe creamy brie  or nutty manchego. Once you taste these lemons you will find plenty of foods and dishes to accent.

Preserved Meyer Lemons and Herb Salsa
Yields enough for 4 to 6 servings
For white fish
  • 1/4 Cup preserved lemons, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh dill, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh chives, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 3 Tablespoons breadcrumbs, unseasoned 


  1. Put olive oil and minced garlic in a small saute pan. Over med-low heat cook the garlic, stirring frequently until the garlic starts to toast turning beige to a slight caramel brown on the edges.
  2. Turn off heat and quickly add the breadcrumbs stirring constantly for a minute to cool the mixture so the garlic will not burn and turn acrid.
  3. Once this mixture has cooled add the rest of your ingredients and mix well. Check for seasoning.
  4. Spoon over freshly grilled, sauteed or baked white fish or fish of your choice.

I would like to share with you some other great recipes and ideas for using your preserved Meyer lemons I have found while focusing on this project. Below are a link of some very interesting and great sounding recipes from other bloggers who share an affinity for this delicacy. Enjoy!

Alana of 'Eating from the Ground Up' has a few delicious and creative recipes listed on her blog. The Preserved Lemon Hummus is my favorite.

Mossy_Stone of 'Mossgrownstone' elaborates on the qualities of preserved lemons and lists a fairly simple yet delicious marinade recipe for chicken.

Epicurious has a versatile dip recipe which can double as a sauce or dressing.


  1. Very cool...thanks for sharing!

  2. Your Preserved Meyer Lemon and Herb Salsa sounds wonderful! I will be trying this as soon as I get my hands on some fish or maybe some scallops. Then I'll be trying the Preserved Lemon Hummus and the dressing. I also love the kraut collar idea- this will be so handy! Thanks for linking to my site Oh and by the way I no longer refrigerate my preserved lemons. They keep getting better and better the longer they're out, now they're so soft the skin tears and the flavor is phenomenal!Just be sure to use a sterile fork or something to get the lemons out as not to contaminate the jar. Great post!

    1. Mossgrownstone,
      Thank you for sharing the tip. Look forward to reading more of your blog.

  3. Graham, Great post on preserving Meyer lemons! I so remember doing this with Sharon, it seemed like we were constantly using preserved lemons in dishes to add depth of flavor to dishes. Thank you for reminding me about doing this!

    1. Sure Nathan.

      I have continued to preserve meyer lemons ever since those early days in Fresno. Was a great time of learning and exploring.

      I love preserved meyer lemons but I think I enjoy the memories even more.