Preserved lemons are a popular ingredient in North-African cooking. Their use isn’t limited to just tagines though. You can use them in dressings, sauces, pastas, salads or any other dish that needs a bit of citrus. They’re also surprisingly easy to make.
Eating a fresh lemon whole, is not something most people would do. This is however exactly what you do with preserved lemons. You can use them in their entirety: skin, rind and flesh. It’s the fermentation process that makes this possible. In the past, fermentation was used as a way of making fresh food last longer. Of course we now have refrigeration for this. So why is this way of preserving lemons still used? The simple answer is: taste. Fermentation mellows the sour taste of the lemons and it makes the bitterness of the rind and pith less intense. At the same time, the brine gives them a salty flavor. Fermented lemons are simply different than fresh lemons.
Making your own preserved lemons isn’t difficult and doesn’t require any fancy equipment. All you really need is a glass jar. Despite this, we use a closed fermentation jar with an airlock. It’s just a bit more convenient, especially if you plan to ferment stuff regularly. You can buy a jar like that on-line or you can make your own. You can find a great tutorial for this here.
Many recipes advise you to keep your preserved lemons in the fridge. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this. Fermentation works best at room temperature, as this is the temperature the fermentation bacteria prefer. Storing them in the fridge will stop all bacteria from growing. This will potentially stop them from spoiling, but will also stop any further development of the lemons’ taste. If you’re still not sure about storing them unrefrigerated, at least keep them at room temperature for the first 4 weeks, giving the fermentation process a chance. Whatever you do though, make sure you use clean utensils when you take any lemons from the jar. That way you avoid contaminating the inside of the jar with unwanted bacteria.
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