Canning and Preserving the Fall Series - Preserved Lemons


Ages ago I worked in a kitchen with a wonderful Moroccan woman named Fatima. She had a thick Arabic accent that ladled her words with her native tongue. She brought her lunch with her daily, and it was usually something leftover from dinner the night before. Something riddled with olives, and almost always, it had bits of these preserved lemons in it.

After some inquiry, and her cousin Erami's urgings, Fatima cooked our kitchen family meal before service one night. It was the most succulent chicken I've ever had bar none. A major player in the flavor - the preserved lemons that she brought from home. The lemons are really easy to make, and so is Fatima's recipe which I've included here. But don't stop there. When your lemons are ready, use them to add flavor to rice, vegetables (green beans love them and so does broccoli), breads, pastas, and one of my favorite ways, in a paste with parsley and olive oil for fish.

This really couldn't be easier. Start with a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. I used a quart jar and it held 6 small organic lemons. When Meyer lemons are available, I use those because they are the perfect size and the peel is thinner so it takes less time to preserve. You'll need a lot of salt for this so buy a big box of Kosher salt.

Cut the lemons in quarters, lengthwise, but don't go all the way through to the bottom. You want them to open up in quarters kind of like a flower.

Put about an inch of salt in the bottom of your jar. Pack in a layer of lemons with the open side facing up. Next pour in more salt, packing it into the lemon and around it. Continue with the lemons and salt until all of your lemons are in and salted. You can add some spices if you like; cinnamon sticks, cumin and coriander seeds are nice, but I like the lemons straight up and then I add seasoning to whatever I'm making.

Press the lemons down into the jar so things get nice and juicy. Put the lid on the jar and let them stand overnight. The next day, open the jar and press the lemons down again so that they release more juice. Do this every day for 2 or 3 days until the lemons are completely covered in liquid. If you don't have enough liquid to cover your lemons after a few days, just add more lemon juice to cover them.

After about a month, (yes, they are preserving out of the fridge for that long) your lemons should be soft, the most beautiful shade of yellow and ready to use. They will keep in the fridge for about 6 months. To use them, take one out, rinse off the extra salt, pull out the pulp and discard (or use it if you like) and dice, julienne or mince the zest. Or, use them in big quarters like you will in Fatima's recipe which I've posted below. Enjoy!

Fatima's Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives

Fatima cooked this on the top of the stove in a big dutch oven. I use my Le Cruset (thanks Mom!!) and it works perfectly. You can also do this slow and low in the oven.

1 whole chicken, skin removed, cut into pieces
1/3 cup vegetable oil (or a mix of vegetable oil and olive oil)
2 very large white or yellow onions , sliced as thinly as possible
one small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
one small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1 handful green or red olives, or mixed
1 preserved lemon, quartered and seeds removed

Mix everything except half of the saffron, olives, and lemon in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Cover the pot, and cook the chicken over medium heat, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, until the chicken is very tender and almost ready to fall off the bones, about an hour. Keep adjusting the heat so that the chicken doesn't burn, and try not to add water as you cook; the chicken will braise in its own juices. When the chicken is cooked, transfer it to a plate and cover.

Now you're going to reduce the sauce. Continue cooking the onion mixture and sauce over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquids evaporates and the onions are meltingly soft.

Add the preserved lemon, olives, the rest of the saffron, and a few tablespoons of water, and simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes. Return the chicken to the pot, and heat through.

Serves Four