Spicy preserved lemons

February 03, 2009|By Scripps Howard News Service

Preserved lemons are used in North Africa and are great gifts for cooks who enjoy the unusual. These lemons preserved in salt and lemon juice taste like nothing else. They turn sour and salty, but something else happens in the process that gives them a come-hither quality and the ability to lift a dish into a new realm.

Try little pieces in greens salads, or tucked into baked sweet potatoes, cooked with greens, or added to a stew or soup. Use the lemons wherever you need a tart, spicy accent. Braising a half lemon with lamb, garlic and carrots is delicious, as is chicken with the fruit.


4-6 weeks preserving time

You can cut the preserving time by a couple of weeks with no problem. The lemons keep up to a year in the refrigerator. Since you are eating the peel, please use organic lemons.


1 pound of organic lemons, about 4 or 5, thoroughly washed
1/3 to 1/2 cup sea salt or kosher salt
1 stick of cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 bay leaves
3 dried red chiles
Juice of additional 4-5 lemons, or to cover

Make a large cross in the top of each lemon, and continue to cut down about 2/3 of the way through the lemon, leaving the stem end intact.

Open each lemon slightly and stuff generous amounts of salt into and between the cut edges. Be generous. They should be heavily packed with salt.

In a large sterilized jar with a lid, pack in the lemons with the remaining salt and the spices. Be sure to tightly wedge the lemons together so that they don't float around the jar. Cover them with the lemon juice, and seal with a lid.

Let them rest for 4-6 weeks at room temperature out of direct light. Give them a good shake every once in a while to remind them you are waiting.

To use, remove the remains of the pulp and rinse the rind. Slice into long graceful strips, or chop into a small dice.

For gifts, tuck this recipe into the bag:


Serves 6 to 8.

Chicken can be done 2 days ahead and reheats well. Leftovers make excellent salads.

1/2 to 3/4 of a whole preserved lemon, lightly rinsed (do not rinse if using Sally's lemons)
1/3 cup good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lightly packed cup fresh coriander branches
2 large garlic cloves
1 generous teaspoon whole cumin seeds (use only if not using Sally's lemons)
6 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, or bone-in thighs (3 to 4 pounds; organic if possible)
Freshly ground black pepper

Turn the oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, finely chop together the lemon (start with 1/2), olive oil, coriander, garlic and cumin. Taste for saltiness, adding the rest of the lemon if you'd like.

Cover a large, shallow roasting pan (a half-sheet pan is ideal) with a sheet of heavy-duty foil. Arrange the chicken breasts on the pan, and spread them with the lemon mixture. Grind a generous amount of pepper over the chicken, and put the pan in the oven. Turn the heat down to 325 degrees.

Roast the chicken for 45 minutes, basting it with its pan juices. When the chicken reaches 170 degrees on an instant reading thermometer, it is done. If you'd like, brown the chicken under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Pile the chicken on a platter and serve it hot or warm. A bundle of fresh coriander is a nice finish on the plate.

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