Ideas in preserved lemons

When I said recently that there is very little variation among most of the recipes I have for preserved lemons, I was deliberately omitting one specific recipe from that generalization: the one in Ideas in Food.

Obviously, the main problem with the traditional recipe for preserved lemons is the amount of time they take. It’s no obstacle if you make them as a matter of course, but if you don’t already have some on hand (or have fewer than you think), you can’t suddenly decide you want to make a recipe that calls for them.

Because this is a known problem, many people have devised ways to speed up the process. Usually this involves using heat to tenderize the lemon rinds, as in Paula Wolfert’s recipe for “five-day preserved lemons” in The Food of Morocco, or this recipe, mentioned by a commenter on my previous post, that uses a sous vide approach. (Though I’m a little baffled as to why it recommends removing the pith from the finished product; to my mind, the whole point of preserving lemons is that it allows you to use the pith.)

The Ideas in Food recipe takes the opposite approach to breaking down the rinds: instead of heating the lemons, they freeze and thaw them repeatedly. As they explain, this creates ice crystals that damage the cell walls, tenderizing the lemons without significantly affecting their flavour.

Having tried the technique, I have mixed feelings about the results. It’s certainly much faster than the month-plus timeline for the traditional method, but the flavour is not the same, and not as complex. (I’m still banking on my “lactic acid bacteria” theory here.) Their stated shelf life also isn’t as long, but that’s easily offset by making smaller batches more often. They are, however, a delicious condiment in their own right, with a brighter, more lemony flavour than traditional preserved lemons, partly because they include the flesh along with the rind. I probably wouldn’t substitute them in a traditional Moroccan dish like chicken with lemon and olives, but I don’t think I’ll have any trouble using up this test batch in other dishes.

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