How To Make Moroccan Preserved Lemons
Preserved Lemons Post updated for 2021:
My Meyer lemon tree bounced back this year in a very prolific way. I’m not sure if it’s because the ancient little tree got extra water or because I had the time to prune it properly during quarantine way back in April. Whatever the reason, we’ve been blessed with a surplus of lemons this year and I recently returned to this recipe because I wanted to make some preserved lemons. I was shocked to see it had been nine years since the original post.
Because the post was so old, I’ve made some updates and changes. I’ve added an easily printable recipe and one that’s built to use a quart jar (instead of the crazy gallon I made last time). Once again, I find the recipe needs more lemon juice than the original in Paula Wolfert’s book so I have adjusted it to add more lemon juice.
If using Mason jars, I highly recommend using plastic lids instead of the typical metal canning flat lid and ring. The acidity from the lemon juice and the salt will cause the metal to rust. I recently bought this set of plastic lids from Amazon (affiliate link) and they are perfect for this application (shown in the photo above).
Original post from January 2012:
A gallon of preserved lemons? What was I thinking? The more the merrier? That I wanted to have a big Moroccan themed party and I’d need a lot of preserved lemon? I honestly don’t know. I think it was something along the lines of, “well, if a little is good, then a lot must be great!”
I received Paula Wolfert’s gorgeous book, The Food of Morocco as a Christmas gift. The book is not only beautiful, but she takes great pains to explain all about the cuisine and I’m really excited to cook from it.
First things first, I needed to have the basic ingredients and one of the main staples is preserved lemon. They take 30 days to cure so I guess I figured I might as well make enough to share with my mother who herself was given a Moroccan tagine for Christmas.
The recipe calls for 5 lemons. Since I could fit 15 lemons into my gallon jar I just tripled the recipe. All good, right? Not so fast.
I forget to take into account how much extra space there would be in the jar. The original recipe calls for 5 lemons, 1/3 cup salt, and 1/2 cup of lemon juice to cover the lemons in what I assume is a quart-sized jar which meant I’d need 1.5 cups of juice for my batch. Unfortunately, that amount wasn’t even close. In the end, for my gallon jar, I needed 7 cups of juice to cover the lemons. Good thing I have a tree full of lemons. I also found the lemons kept bobbing up to the top like rubber duckies floating in the bathtub. A few small glass bowls used as weights solved that problem.
Paula Wolfert has this to say about using Meyer lemons:
The creme de la creme of Moroccan lemons, the thin skinned doqq, is similar in aroma and flavor to our thicker-skinned American hybrid, the Meyer lemon. Meyer lemons turn extremely soft during preserving, and they make excellent flavoring for olives, salads or brined vegetables or garnish for tagines. California Eureka lemons also work quite well.
How to Make Preserved Lemons
- Wide mouth quart jar with plastic lid, sterilized
- 5 each lemons preferably thin skinned Meyer Lemons
- ⅓ cup kosher salt
- 1 to 1½ cups lemon juice from 3-4 fresh lemons
- Wash and scrub the lemons and trim off the ends.
- With a sharp knife, cut the lemon in half lengthwise, from the top of the lemon down to about 1/4" from the base. Do not cut all the way through. Turn the lemon 180° and cut again, effectively quartering it, but don't cut all the way through. Repeat with the other 4 lemons.
- Sprinkle salt inside the cut pieces of the lemons and then place the lemons in the clean jar. You may have to squeeze them to get them in, this is ok.
- Add the rest of the salt to the jar and then add the lemon juice until you cover the lemons in the juice. Place a lid on the jar and turn it upside down a couple of times to make sure the salt starts to dissolve.
- Leave the lemons on the counter for a couple of days, turning the jar every 12 hours or so to make sure the salt and juice are being combined. On day 3, place the jar in the refrigerator. According to Wolfert's book they need to cure for 30 days, but I think they may be ready as soon as 3 weeks. Every so often, turn the jar upsidedown in the refrigerator. When the lemon peels are soft, they are ready. Preserved lemons can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 6 months (or according to some, much longer).
Recipes using preserved lemon:
Scarola alla Napoletana; Escarole and Spinach with Olives, Capers, Anchovy, and Preserved Lemon.
Toasted Israeli Couscous Salad with Olives, Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Preserved Lemon
Jenn and Seth (@HomeSkilletCook)
Just found your blog, so many great things!…thanks for posting this, we have been eager to try preserving lemons!
Why have I never thought of this? I got carried away buying local Meyer lemons the other day. This is great way to them up.
Well, thanks for sharing your little issue. I can’t wait to see some recipes with these lemons!
This sounds like a great project for summertime! I’m hoping to get my grandmother to teach me all of her canning secrets, and this would make a great addition for dishes more adventurous than straight applesauce and pickles. How did you seal the jar? It looks in the picture like a plastic lid, so is sealing less of an issue here than with traditional canning?
It’s actually a metal lid, but the lemons are not traditionally “canned” according to the recipe. In reading the book, preserved lemons are more of an accent ingredient to recipe than say, a condiment like pickles.
Ella- I contacted Paula Wolfort and she reminded me you don’t want to use metal lids because of the acid and salt corrosion issues. For this, plastic is better, or a glass bale lid jar. Also, please follow her ratio of salt to lemon juice, not mine. 🙂
Do you preserve them for 30 days on the countertop or in the refrigerator? After 30 days do you leave them in the brine or rinse and store in the refrigerator? New to your blog and looking forward to making these!
Kim- Welcome to the blog! The book says to store them in the brine “in a warm place” for 30 days (I admit I was a little nervous about this), but I’m sure if you refrigerated them it would be fine too (I’ve seen recipes which do it that way as well). They need to be completely covered in the brine at all times so that the lemons are not exposed to air (and thus might mold) and you’ll want to turn the jar over every few days to make sure it’s evenly distributed. After that, they go into the refrigerator, in the brine. They are rinsed off when you use them.
My question has always been how long do they stay edible? Is it indefinite? Because even a smaller jar of preserved lemons could last a very long time.
That’s a good question. I’ve read they’ll keep in the refrigerator at least 6 months to a year.
I used my preserved lemon to make compound butter – excellent. I also starting adding it in place of lemon juice which also works well. And of course it works wonders in nearly any fish dish – great stuff that is worth the effort and time.
Has anyone tried this technique other citrus fruits?
I haven’t done it myself, but a quick Google tells me yes so why not?
Check this out https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/preserve-winter-citrus-blood-orange-tangerine-clementine-article