Tuesday, September 18, 2007

kitchen essentials — citrons confits

an essential ingredient in moroccan and north african cooking, les citrons confits (preserved lemons) are cured in either a briny lemon liquid or, in the sephardic jewish manner, with oil.

used in many a tagine recipe, in some salads or added as an ingredient in some brik recipes, this is a staple item and not just some curious ingredient — in the markets (of north africa) they can be bought individually to use as needed. the lemons will keep for a good year or longer either in a cool area or the refrigerator.

there are different ways to prepare the lemons. concerning the cut, some people leave them whole and others will cut thick slices or even dice them up in chunks. i prefer to keep them whole as shown below. to soften the skins, i let the lemons cure in only the salt for approximately a week before continuing with the recipe (this is how i was taught/shown how to do it). some people will soak the lemons in (warm) water for several days, changing it every day and then go ahead with the pickling process. the citrons confits can also be made plainly or with spices, such as bay leaves, a stick of cinnamon, peppercorns, red chilies etc. different cities or regions (or ethnic groups) have different ways of preparing them.

i will add the non-oil way, with spices, later on ..... pictures still to be 'processed'.

citrons confits (preserved lemons)


lemons, unblemished and unwaxed
kosher salt, i.e. coarse salt (not "rock" salt)
vegetable oil (or mild olive) or pure lemon juice
paprika & bay leaf, optional


take lemons and wash extremely well.

on a clean board, cut each lemon crosswise from the blossom end.

cut only to within 1/4 of the stem end.

take each lemon and pack it well with A LOT of salt in all 4 openings.

place the lemons in a sterilized jar and let them cure for one week.

shake the jar daily. eventually, the juices will come out and the peel should soften up.

(photo from a previous batch; after day 1)

after 5 to 7 days, sprinkle in a bit more salt and fill completely with vegetable or mild olive oil. this is the jewish way to do it. others use lemon juice, in addition to what has been released, to fill to the top. NEVER add water.

if you want, you can add paprika and the bay leaf to the lemons before filling with oil or during the salting stage.

let the lemons cure for at least another three and a half to four weeks.

to use, cut away pieces and rinse very well under running water. remove any seeds (and pulp) and chop the skin. add to the dish for which you need it.

alternate methods:

a] similar but said to be ready in 7 days .... who knows. look here & here. (update: ok, i tried it - it works but waiting the month much improves and softens them completely).

b] salt the lemons, pack in a jar, sprinkle some more salt, let sit 3 days, add enough lemon juice to cover and let pickle for 4 wks.

c] same as b, use oil instead of lemon juice.

here is an extra recipe (untried) that includes sugar in it. bonnie stern is canadian, a well-known cookbook author and also runs a cooking school in toronto.

she has great recipes, so check out both her site and books she's written.


makes 8 lemons


2 cups (500mL) kosher salt
1/2 cup (125mL) sugar
2 cups (500mL) lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick - optional
4 star anise - optional
2 bay leaves - optional


Cut lemons into quarters lengthwise leaving them attached at the stem end.

Combine salt and sugar.

Place about 1/2 cup (125mL) salt mixture in the bottom of a preserving jar that will hold the lemons snuggly.

Fill each lemon with salt mixture and place in the jar. Cover with any remaining salt mixture. Pour lemon juice into the jar just to cover lemons. Close cover tightly.

Let lemons sit for one month before using.

To use, discard pulp and pith. Rinse peel. Chop finely or thinly slice according to the recipe.

makes 8 lemons


Beenzzz said...

Preserved lemons are the best. Whenever we make tagine chicken, we use them. YUM!

burekaboy — said...

beenzzz - my friends make this spicy tuna thing with them which is sooo good ;) i usually add them to 'poulet aux olives' (chicken with olives).

Vidya said...

I have all the ingredients, I think I can make it this weekend.

I just got a huge bag of limes from the warehouse store, do you think I could use them instead? Also, how do I know if the lemons are unwaxed? Is there a way to get the wax off, maybe with hot water or something?

burekaboy — said...

hi vidya - i'm sure you could make them with limes as they're really not that different from lemons, except in taste. lemons, however are the traditional ingredient for this 'pickle'.

You can tell if the lemons are waxed 2 ways: first, you can see that they are shiny and glossy which is not normal. the second way is that if you scrape your nail on the skin, a white waxy coating will usually come off. you can always ask if they've been waxed, if you're unsure. many times they are not. if they are waxed, just scrub them but be careful not to damage the skin. the wax is edible, i believe as it's on apples and people normally eat the skin. it's USDA approved, if you're worried about that. waxed or unwaxed, i still always wash them as you never know who or what has touched them previously and there may be microbial stuff lurking.

btw, i recently tried the 7 day method and it does work if you "need" them quickly. the best ones, however, are cured for a few weeks.

have fun with the project! i imagine you'll be spicing them up interestingly, too :)

Anonymous said...

You must be psychic. I have had a brand new, never used Le Creuset tagine for over 5 years. I was looking at the recipe book that came with it. My hubby saw the Chicken with Preserved Lemon recipe and begged me to make it. I was checking your blog and you posted this recipe the VERY SAME DAY! I told him that it takes weeks to make. Undeterred, he brought me a store bought jar that day. I made it. He loved it. We had it pre-fast with wonton soup and potato kugel. Another typically mixed-up meal. I hope to make my own preserved lemons soon!


burekaboy — said...

deanna - le creuset has very nice tagines, actually. i only have the small tiny ones for keeping spices.

that's pretty funny about the coincidence ;) at least, you could get them already made to satisfy his desire for the chicken dish.

do give the preserved lemons a try; they're much better when you make them yourself and they're really very uncomplicated (fun project, too): cut and salt lemons and that's it, really. btw, the 7 day method works but curing them for the month works best.

sounds like you had a good "mixed-up" meal. i made jewish wonton (i.e. kreplach) and kugel and a chicken dish, too! LOL.

Vidya said...

Quick update - It has been a week since I salted the limes. I filled the jar with lime juice and is now sitting on the kitchen counter. I'll wait for a month before using it, to be sure that it is well cured.

burekaboy — said...

hi vidya - great :)) now the hard part, waiting a month! LOL. by the way, i checked with a friend and yes, limes are also preserved this way, in addition to the lemons. i was also told oranges can be done the same way. obviously, they're all used in cooking savoury items and not sweet. will be interested to hear how yours turn out and what you think of them and end up using them for.

sari said...

day 2 after starting the process: they are crying their juices out beautifully.i'll let you know in 4 weeks!

burekaboy — said...

sari - yay, you made them! now you have to wait :(( hate that part!

try them with oil. they're better, in my opinion.