Preserved lemons, used in Moroccan cooking, can be made at home

Ask the Chef

August 04, 2002|By Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan | By Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Q. Can you tell me what a preserved lemon is? I want to make a swordfish recipe that calls for two whole preserved lemons, peeled and finely chopped. I've never heard of a preserved lemon.

A. Here's the scoop on preserved lemons. They are a crucial ingredient in Moroccan cooking and have a taste and texture that cannot be duplicated with fresh lemon or lime juice.

They are hard to find in traditional supermarkets, but some gourmet shops carry them, and you should be able to buy them in grocery stores that specialize in Middle Eastern products. When you find them, go easy on the salt in your swordfish recipe since these lemons are actually preserved in salt.

If you can't find preserved lemons, or find them and love them and want to keep a stash on hand, here's a recipe for making them at home.

Now, there are different ways of making preserved lemons. Some people heat them, some don't. I do, because it speeds up the preserving process. Make sure that you start with good, firm lemons and that you use only kosher or sea salt when you prepare them.

After you have used them with your swordfish recipe, try them with lamb -- the flavors are made for each other.

Jim Coleman is executive chef at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, a cookbook author, and host of television and radio cooking shows. Candace Hagan is a food writer and cookbook author.

Preserved Lemons

water

8 fresh lemons

5 ounces kosher or sea salt

2 cinnamon sticks

4 teaspoons coriander seeds

3 teaspoons black peppercorns

7 whole cloves

1 cup olive oil (or more if needed)

Prepare Mason jars with rubber seals. Bring a large pan of water to a boil and add the lemons. When the water has returned to boiling, cook the lemons for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain, then immerse the lemons in cold water until they are cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, place about 6 cups of water in a large saucepan with the salt, cinnamon, coriander seeds, peppercorns, and cloves. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and then remove from the heat.

Tightly pack the whole lemons into prepared warm jars. You can halve or quarter the lemons lengthwise to achieve a tighter fit if you prefer. Ladle the hot brine, including the spices, over the lemons to within an inch of the rims of the jars. Add a layer of olive oil, then cover and seal.

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