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Chef’s best: Add sparkle to your cooking with preserved lemons

Lemons in basket, Murcia, Spain, close-up

Lemons in basket, Murcia, Spain, close-up Purchase photo reprints »

Preserved lemons, a staple of Moroccan cooking, are made using the entire lemon, skin and all, cured in its own juices along with salt and sometimes sugar.

The pickling is easy to do, although it takes at least three weeks before the lemons are ready to use. Preserved lemons are often the secret ingredient that makes an otherwise ordinary dish sparkle. Just a small amount stirred into a quick saute or added to a roasting chicken adds a brightness and depth of flavor.

I also love them with any type of seafood. Enhance a sauteed salmon fillet by stirring finely chopped preserved rind into the saute pan with a little butter and chopped cilantro. Preserved lemons may taste a bit tart, but the skin and pith impart an intensely lemony flavor compared to using just juice and zest.

Making traditional preserved lemons at home is easy and well worth the work if you plan ahead. I use about eight small lemons for a quart-sized jar, with about a cup of kosher salt. I may add a stick or two of cinnamon, a bay leaf and/or some whole peppercorns.

It’s important to scrub the lemons very clean before quartering them almost all the way, leaving the quarters still attached at one end. Simply rub the cut surfaces with salt (about 2 tablespoons per lemon), and pack them into the (very clean) jar, pushing them down into the bottom.

Add enough fresh lemon juice to cover the lemons completely, cover the jar, and leave it out on the counter for about a week, turning it upside down every so often. Refrigerate the jarred lemons and let it sit for another month or so, with an occasional turn and shake. They’ll keep perfectly, refrigerated, for at least a year.

Chicken Cutlets

With Preserved Lemons and Parsley

Makes 4 servings

This delicious dish is easy enough for a family dinner but elegant enough for company. I serve it with boiled potatoes rolled in parsley butter and whatever vegetable is in season. An oaky California chardonnay is a perfect match.

1½ pounds chicken cutlets, pounded ¼- to ½-inch thick

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Flour for dredging

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 cups homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock, warmed

1 preserved lemon, chopped, plus 4 tablespoons juice from the jar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons fresh flat-leafed parsley, minced

Season the cutlets, remembering that the preserved lemons are salty. Dredge the cutlets in flour.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium heat. Brown the cutlets in the hot oil, about 4 minutes per side. Remove the cutlets and cover them with foil to keep them warm while you prepare the sauce.

Add the garlic to the same pan. Saute for a minute or two until it becomes fragrant. Do not brown. Add the stock and the preserved lemon and juice. Deglaze the browned bits in the pan with a wooden spoon. Bring to a low boil and cook until the sauce is reduced by half, to about 1 cup. Add the butter and, after it melts, return the cutlets to the pan. Flip the cutlets in the sauce until they are warmed and moistened. Serve them garnished with the parsley. Makes 4 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Well-Preserved — Recipes and Techniques for Putting up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods” by Eugenia Bone (Potter, $24.95).

Per serving: 357 calories (48 percent from fat), 18.7 grams fat (7.4 grams saturated, 7.3 grams monounsaturated), 135 mg cholesterol, 39 grams protein, 5.9 grams carbohydrates, 0.1 gram fiber, 372 mg sodium.

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