Lemon Preserved In Salt, photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

With all this curing going on over at charcutepalooza, I thought I’d mention a common item that anyone can easily cure, given enough time.  Lemons.  Lemon confit or preserved lemon, is a powerful seasoning and a great pantry item to have on hand. A common ingredient in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines, it adds a beguiling lemony-salty brightness to stews, curries, and sauces. It is amazing minced and tossed into a salad, or used to infused olive oil for a vinaigrette or condiment. It also goes well with chicken, fish, and veal. There may be no purer example of salt’s transformative powers than what it alone does to the lemon.

The following recipe is adapted from Charcuterie. If you want a sweeter result you can add a cup or so of sugar.  Not too long ago I had a batch of lemon confit  that developed an air pocket around one of the lemons and mold grew.  That batch had to be thrown out, so now I add a half a cup of water or so to add some density to the mix and  and I also pack the salt down every month or so to ensure the fruit is completely encased in salt.

Lemon Confit

Ensure the fruit is completely packed in the salt.

  • Kosher salt to cover (about 2 pounds/900 grams)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup water or lemon juice (125 to 250 ml)
  • 6 lemons, scrubbed and halved crosswise
  1. Pour 1 inch/2.5 centimeters of salt into a lidded nonreactive container just large enough to contain the lemons and salt.  An earthenware crock is ideal, but a plastic sherbet container or a wide-mouthed glass jar work fine.  A container in which your lemons fit neatly, without being jammed together, will require less salt.  Place the lemons in the container, then pour more salt to cover and drizzle over the 1/2 cup of water.  The lemon should be completely submerged and make sure there are no air pockets around the lemons.
  2. Cover and store in a cupboard or other dark place for at least 1 month, preferably 3 months.  Once cured, the lemons will keep almost indefinitely in the salt.
  3. To use the confit, remove a lemon half, or as many as you need, from the salt and rinse off.  The lemon rind will be tan in color if you did not use lemon juice.  Cut in half and scrape out the pulp and pith; discard them.  Mince or slice the rind.  If using it uncooked (in a salad, for instance), blanch it in simmering water for 30 seconds to remove excess salt.

Yield: 12 pieces lemon confit

Update: Enough comments noting bright yellow lemon confit make me want to revise this and say absolutely, add half a cup or more of lemon juice rather than water.  The acid should reduce the oxidation of the skin to maintain its color.  For my next batch, I’m going to halve the lemons, juice them, and put the rind, juice and salt together.  Also, whiteonricecouple once made me a bracing elixer by juicing a confited lime and adding soda water over ice.

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© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.