How to Make Preserved Lemons

Many Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes call for preserved lemons, lemons that have been pickled in salt and their own juices. It’s quite easy to do, though takes at least three weeks before the lemons are ready to use.

How to Make Preserved Lemons

Ingredients

  • 8-10 Meyer lemons*, scrubbed very clean
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt, more if needed
  • Extra fresh squeezed lemon juice, if needed
  • Sterilized quart canning jar

* You don't need to use Meyer lemons, regular lemons will do, it's just that the milder Meyer lemons work very well for preserving in this way.

Method

1 Place 2 Tbsp of salt in the bottom of a sterilized jar.

2 One by one, prepare the lemons in the following way. Cut off any protruding stems from the lemons, and cut 1/4 inch off the tip of each lemon. Cut the lemons as if you were going to cut them in half lengthwize, starting from the tip, but do not cut all the way. Keep the lemon attached at the base. Make another cut in a similar manner, so now the lemon is quartered, but again, attached at the base.

preserved-lemons-1a preserved-lemons-1b

3 Pry the lemons open and generously sprinkle salt all over the insides and outsides of the lemons.

4 Pack the lemons in the jar, squishing them down so that juice is extracted and the lemon juice rises to the top of the jar. Fill up the jar with lemons, make sure the top is covered with lemon juice. Add more fresh squeezed lemon juice if necessary. Top with a couple tablespoons of salt.

5 Seal the jar and let sit at room temperature for a couple days. Turn the jar upside down ocassionally. Put in refrigerator and let sit, again turning upside down ocassionally, for at least 3 weeks, until lemon rinds soften.

6 To use, remove a lemon from the jar and rinse thoroughly in water to remove salt. Discard seeds before using. Discard the pulp before using, if desired.

7 Store in refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Note:
You can add spices to the lemons for preserving - cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, bay leaf.

Preserved Lemons on Simply Recipes

Links:
Sam's preserved lemons recipe

36 Comments

  1. Tammy

    Facsinating! I’ve never had preserved lemons, what do they taste like?

    Note from Elise: lemony and a little salty, but not acidic

  2. Michele

    I was just reading about this exact technique on Messy Cucina a couple of weeks ago, they sound delicious! Now I just have to locate a source for Meyer lemons around here.

  3. Carol

    Immediately I think of dipping sauce for Artichokes. Also a great fish sauce (instead of tartar), and some pasta dishes. YUMMY idea! thanks….

  4. littlebouffe

    Lovely photos and directions. But to respond to other comments, I’d like to chip in that you don’t have to use Meyer lemons; ordinary ones are the standard. I never had a Meyer lemon, but I’ve no doubt they would be exceptional here.

    To use them, you need to rinse them well to get rid of the salt. Also, scrape off the pulp–it will be far too salty. Then chop the peel into thin strips or dice and use them however you fancy. Most commonly, they’d be added to a stew or casserole after you’ve sauteed the onions and just before you add the liquid. Look for recipes for Morroccon chicken with olives and lemons, that’s probably the most well-known dish.

    Beautiful site.

  5. Sandy S

    We used to make a fabulous morrocan chicken with the lemons. And yes, they are really salty. Yum.
    Moroccan Chicken with preserved lemons:
    2 TB olive oil
    3 lbs skinned chicken thighs
    1 lg onion, chopped
    2 tsp paprika
    1/2 tsp ground tumeric
    1/2 C calamata or ripe olives (latter have less salt)
    1/2 tsp peper
    6-8 preserved lemon quarters
    1/4 C finely chopped fresh cilantro
    Brown chicken in oil. Remove chicken and most of the oil, saute everything else, adding 1 C water, chicken, lemons and olives plus 1 T lemon liquid after 5 minutes. Simmer, turning once, about 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro.

    Enjoy!

  6. Tom Hammer

    Oh, what a coincidence. My wife just put up some preserved lemons using this method. We’ll use them next month in a recipe for a dish for our supper club. The theme of the dinner: Soiree du Citroen.

    I love that you put foundation items like this or Chicken Broth, Elise.

  7. Preya

    In Vietnam they preserve sour kumquats the same way and use them in a “lemonade” type drink, though I always used to just eat them as is when I was a kid!

  8. kickpleat

    I love preserved lemons and used a Jamie Oliver recipe to make them and give them away as Christmas presents one year. So tasty!! I think it’s time to make some more.

  9. Robin

    I suppose it would be helpful to point out that you should prepare this only after carefully inspecting your hands for cuts and scrapes.

    Between the lemon juice and the salt your hands will smell lovely (once washed) but after making it but any cut, however small, will be very irritated. Great recipie otherwise. I love pickled anything and these lemons are great in cooking.

  10. Charlene

    I gave a jar of preserved lemons to a friend as a gift and he surprised me by using them as a condiment with smoked salmon, along with the capers, green onion, rye crackers, cream cheese, etc., he also laid out the slivered rind. It was an excellent addition.

    The leftover pulp can be used for bloody marys.

    Another suggestion is to use with an oily fish like sea bass or sword fish similar to chicken recipe above. thx!

  11. Matt

    You can also use the lemon rinds in soups and stews. When you add the cinnamon, coriander and so on the lemons add a whole slew of layers of flavor, and then have different uses than regular lemons. They are highly versatile, but keep in mind they are also highly potent.

    Make sure you use organic lemons, or at least thoroughly wash waxed lemons.

  12. Tea

    This is great, Elise! I’ve seen a few recipes for preserved lemons, but the photos are extremely helpful in clarifying the preparation method. Thank you–I had been a little unclear on the quartering.

    And thanks for your comment on Tea and Cookies–always nice to connect with another former gaijin:-). Isn’t it an amazing experience? Like you I have so many wonderful memories.

  13. Caryn

    I got the following from a web site selling preserved lemons. I’ve used Meyer lemons b/c I can easily get them from my counsin in Florida. Also, I’ve had a delicious arugula, goats cheese and ham salad topped with very thinly sliced preseved lemons. Very good!!!

    A classic Moroccan ingredient, preserved lemons lend an almost indecipherable flavor to a whole host of dishes such as couscous, lamb and vegetables tagines, recipes for chicken, and all manner of salads. The “lemonness” you expect is softened and sour and salty elements combine with a hint of sweetness for an entirely new flavor experience. Our good friend Mustapha’s Preserved Lemons are packed in a mild brine solution, which transforms the once bitter lemon rind into a completely different ingredient, one that you will find enticing and indispensable.

    Preserved lemons are usually rinsed to remove excess saltiness, and the rind can be blanched to remove even more of the saltiness. You can use the entire lemon if you wish, and the lemons will keep for up to a year in their brine – you may see a lacy, white substance clinging to preserved lemons; it is perfectly harmless, and can be removed by rinsing.

    Try slicing preserved lemons thinly and tucking them into a fragrant stew or lentil dish, bake with fish or lamb or toss in a fresh vegetable salad. A twist of preserved lemon rind will make for one incredible martini.

  14. aili

    Preserved lemons are alos used in a recipe for Morrocan Lamb Tagine (The Frugal Gourmet Cooks our immigrant ancestors). I don’t think anything else tastes quite like them. Mmmmmm!

  15. Michelle

    An excellent way to use preserved lemons is as follows; In a cuisinart add 2 lemons 2tbls dijon mustard, 1/3 cup honey, 1 garlic clove,salt and pepper to taste.Whizz this mixture untill smooth then slowly drizzle in good olive oil untill you reach the consistancy of a loose mayonnaise. Toss with mesculin and top with roasted beets, goat cheese and toasted spiced nuts. Enjoy! Please be advised that you can play around with the amounts of these ingredients to reach desired specific taste.

  16. Dennis Kercher

    Was looking around and saw this, albiet a year late. I make “Lemon Confit” every year. A couple of things I would do different.
    1 – Use Rock Salt, not kosher salt.
    2 – Forget about opening the lemons and salting. Just put a layer of rock salt in the bottom of a jar, lemons, salt, lemons until the jar is almost full. I also put in a bay leaf and a cinnamon stick. Top off with some more salt and a little lemon juice. After a week, retop off with more rock salt as it will settle.
    3 – They are good after 30 days and last about a year. Unrefrigerated.
    4 – the benefit of a Meyer Lemon is that the peel is thin. You only use the peel, not the fruit. I’ve tried it with Eureka or other thicker skinned lemons and it’s not the same.
    5 – If you want to use some in a salad dressing or sprinkled over fish, boil in water for 10 minutes and it will lose the heavy salt taste.
    6 – This time of the year, Meyer Lemons are prolific at farmers markets.

    Otherwise it’s great stuffed under a chicken skin with garlic. I also use it in a marinade with rosemary and garlic for Rack of Lamb.

  17. Libby

    Hi. I tried this recipe in March using a combination of meyer lemons and kumquats. But I made it in a fancy clamp top jar and the lid was a lot farther away from the lip of the jar than in normal mason jars and I couldn’t fill it to the brim with juice and salt. So when I turned it upside down the first few days, a couple pieces of fruit got dislodged and sat in the airspace between the juice and the lid. They discolored and kinda smell bad, so I pulled them out and tossed them along with the top layer of fruit under them. (sorry for the long explaination)

    My question is: do you think the rest of the jar is safe to eat? They look normal, orangey yellow and gooey, and none of the rest smell funny. Thanks for any suggestions.

  18. Jane

    How do you actually use them? Straight from the jar? All of the lemon? No one actually mentions this important part? Are they not really salty?

    Rinse thoroughly before using. With rinsing they are a little salty, like green olives. I think mainly just the peel is used. Include it in Moroccan tagine dishes, like this Moroccan chicken with lemon and olives recipe. ~Elise

  19. Terri

    I’ve made a Morrocan type chicken dish that included preserved lemons, green olives and dates that was great. The tartness of the lemons and sweetness of dates is great combination…I lost recipe! Anyone have a similar recipe? Preserved lemons are the best.

    Look at our Moroccan chicken with lemon and olives recipe for a base. You could easily add some dates. ~Elise

  20. Alexandra

    It’s also worth mentioning that as the lemons age, they intensify in colour turning an almost deep amber. Also, pectin jellifies the liquid, but this doesn’t affect the flavour or the goodness, at all.
    It’s also worth mentioning about being cautious using a metal-top screw lid. The salt solution may well corrode the lid, so I use a double layer of clingfilm for the first month. Then I replace it periodically during the time I use the lemons.
    Love ‘em!!
    Thanks everyone for a really informative thread….

    Use of the spices is optional…. I read somewhere that the use of the spices came from a different region of Morocco……

  21. katrina

    The thought of these is so enticing. I only tried it once, and the lemons were so bitter I had to throw them out.
    Try, try again. Thanks for the recipe!

    Try them with Meyer lemons, they’re sweeter than regular lemons. ~Elise

  22. dale

    How do I sterilize the glass container before adding lemon and salt?

    You can place a rack on the bottom of a large stock pot, add the glass jars so they are standing on the rack, cover with water, bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Or you can wash out the jars, put them in a 95°C oven (200°F) for 10 minutes. ~Elise

  23. Barbara Bullinger

    I am making 2 gallons tonight to give away as Christmas gifts. I add bay leaves, cloves, cardamon,and cinnamon sticks. Meyer Lemons are a must. They have an entirely different flavor from regular lemons…sort of a Tangerine smell to the lemons, and they are sweeter.

  24. DeniseinArk

    I heard a chef on Martha Stewart Radio this weekend talking about using preserved lemons and cooking in a tangine – neither of which I had ever heard of. Now I am enamored with the idea.

    I have a question: if this turns out as divinely as it sounds, I will probably want to make some up and a small recipe booklet to use for Christmas gifts. I see where there was a problem making it in a rubber stoppered jar. Would it be best to make it in a regular Mason jar and then decant into something more decorative?

    Thanks!

    Great question, I don’t really know. The lemons get preserved in salt and their own acid, that said, you want to sterilize any jar you use. ~Elise

  25. Ray

    There was a method I have seen on a TV show (I watch a lot of Food Network, lol) and a fast way to make preserved lemons is to cut the lemons in 6 then in a non-corrosive oven pan (pyrex) add the lemons and a cup of salt, and water to cover the lemons. Put in the oven for 6 hours at 250 degrees, then jar. They are ready immediately, however I think preserving them longer might bring out more flavor but it’s a quick way if you have a dish you want to prepare.

  26. london girl

    Surely the whole reason for for preserving anything (especially in such a large amount of salt) is that you don’t then have to keep it in a refrigerator? Moroccans were using this recipe long before the invention of fridges. Seems a bit like belt and braces to me.

  27. Weiwen Ng

    Obviously they go with Moroccan and similar cuisine, but The Perfect Pantry has a very nice recipe with lentils, spinach, kielbasa and preserved lemon.

    http://www.theperfectpantry.com/2007/03/preserved_lemon.html

    My wife put a few preserved lemon slices in mayo with garlic for some chickpea burgers we made. That was also pretty good.

    I, too, would be interested in other recipes involving preserved lemons. Frankly, I would NOT be interested in dessert recipes – I don’t think they’ll go at all with dessert.

  28. Farid

    Preserved lemons keep for more than 6 months in the refrigerator.

    If you use enough salt, they will keep for more than a year in your pantry.

  29. Abdel Irada

    My question is similar to Libby’s.

    In April, I made a batch of preserved lemons in two Mason jars. One of them was fine, and I’ve just finished using the contents. But the topmost lemon in the other was partly exposed to air, discolored and showed signs of decay. I removed it, and the remaining lemons look and smell okay.

    The question is: are they okay?

    I understand that the lemons are supposed to store safely for at least six months (if not longer), but this does not make it clear to me whether or not they are safe in this instance.

    Could someone please supply me with an unequivocal answer? I’d like to make a recipe requiring these lemons for a holiday dinner, but I daren’t do that until I know they are safe, and don’t have time to make a new batch.

  30. Gary in AK

    Hi, was just wondering if anyone has tried this method with limes?

    I’m looking for a pickled or preserved lime recipe.

    Gary

  31. Jennifer in WI

    I looked up this recipe because we had a delicious pizza at a local restaurant that had it on it. It was a green garlic sauce for the base, and then arugula, artichoke, red onion, feta and lemon preserves. Yummy. Now I have to find the green garlic sauce…

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