08 December, 2008

Preserved lemons

Well, two of you asked for this recipe so here goes. This is from Paula Wolfert's Moroccan Cuisine which is one of those thorough and not a little scary cookery books that makes you want to visit a souk. Oh, and it has no pictures (which doesn't worry me but I know of people who hate that). In other words, I'd love to use it more, but it rarely leaves the shelf. It is beautifully written and not dissimilar in style to Elizabeth David - poetic, slightly bossy, thorough, authoritative. I like this passage on roasting lamb:

"I am not going to suggest you spit-roast a whole lamb; I realise that for most readers that is out of the question. Instead I recommend that you make mechoui with a ten pound forequarter. Though it may taste a little better if you can dig a pit, fill it with charcoal and set up a roasting spit in your backyard, I guarantee that with this adaptation you will obtain good results in the oven of your home, be it a country house or a flat."
So. Preserved lemons.

From Paula Wolfert: Moroccan Cuisine

Preserved lemons, sold loose in the souks, are one of the indispensable ingredients of Moroccan cooking, used in fragrant lamb and vegetable tagines, recipes for chicken with lemons and olives, and salads. Their unique pickled taste and special silken texture cannot be duplicated with fresh lemon or lime juice, despite what some food writers have said.

5 lemons
70g (21/2oz) salt, more if desired
Optional Safi Mixture: 1 cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, 5 to 6 coriander seeds, 3 to 4 black peppercorns, 1 bay leaf
Freshly squeezed lemon juice if necessary

1. If you wish to soften the peel, soak the lemons in lukewarm water for 3 days, changing the water daily. (I didn't.)

2. Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1 cm (1/2") of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.

3. Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of a preserving jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt, and the optional spices, between layers. Press down the lemons to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. (If the juice released from the squashed fruit does not cover them, add freshly squeezed lemon juice - not chemically produced lemon juice and not water. I'd like to add that I need loads and loads of extra lemons to produce enough juice. I don't know if soaking the lemons would have produced more juice from the ones I was preserving but if not then this isn't a recipe that is light on lemons, and they must have some incredibly juicy lemons in Morocco.) Leave some air space before sealing the jar.

4. Let the lemons mature in a warm place, for 30 days, shaking the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice.

To use, rinse the lemons as needed under running water, removing and discarding the pulp, if desired - and there is no need to refrigerate after opening though a layer of olive oil will keep them fresh. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and the pickling juice can be used two or three times over the course of a year.

1 comment:

Joanna said...

Timely reminder - I keep meaning to make these. You're so right about Wolfert / E David, that poet/bossy thing, and I LOVED your magesterial quote about roasting lamb ;)