Monday, February 15, 2010

Preserved Citrus - Weekly Email


Fantastic weather this week, perfect for going on a walk. One of the great things about Southern California is that just by walking around your neighborhood, chances are you will see plenty of fruit trees. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the fruit you see will go to waste. Don't let it go to waste. Take a chance. Talk to your neighbors and ask them if you can pick their fruit to make jam, marmalade, conserves, or whatever else you'd like to make. Offer to give them some of the results. I've never had anyone say no.

This time of year the most common types of fruit you see is citrus. Tons and tons of citrus. Lemons, oranges, tangerines and even the occasional lime.

Marmalade is the obvious use, and a great one, but for my money the most culinarily useful preserved product you can make with citrus is preserved with salt. Preserved lemons are one of my "secret" goto ingredients when I want to punch up a dish. Seriously, you need these in your refrigerator.

Preserved lemons themselves are very common in Northern African cuisine, particularly Moroccan. They are also common in Vietnamese and Cambodian dishes, but their uses go far beyond tagines and pho. You can use preserved citrus in nearly everything, you just have to realize what it is: salty, citrus rind pickles.

The basics are that you pack lemons (or other citrus) in a combination of salt, their own juices and, optionally, spices and water. The salt and acid will breakdown and infuse the rind of the fruit, turning it into a soft, flavorful and salty condiment. It takes some time - the thicker the rind the longer it will take, but usually you'll have results in a couple of weeks to about a month. This isn't a canning recipe, though mason jars are ideal containers to use, but the preserved citrus can then be kept in the refrigerator for six months or more (they never last that long).

A couple of notes. Since you will be eating the rind, be sure to use organic, non-waxed fruit. Also, like all pickles, be sure to use a pure salt, either kosher or pickling salt. Any salt that contains iodine or free-flow agents will reduce the quality.

Nina Corbett has a recipe for brined lemons (with water and spices), which makes the lemons a little less salty, with additional flavor:

A more traditional recipe from Paula Wolfert can be found here:

Oranges and limes can also be preserved with these recipes. Limes have fantastic flavor, but the rinds turn brown. Feel free to play with the spices as well. I'm planning on experimenting with some smoked salt as part of the salt.

Once made, you'd be surprised how versatile they can be. Here are just a few uses:
risotto (particularly lemon risotto)
pasta sauces
fresh pasta (as in adding it to the pasta dough)
ice cream (seriously, try adding a little to lemon ice cream - salt, acid and cream)
anchovies (as a substitute ... I love anchovies, but some don't, or are vegetarian)
roasted or sauteed vegetables

You know, I could go on and on. As you cook with preserved citrus, you'll begin to see how many potential uses there are. Just remember when you start that they are strong stuff. A little goes a long way. I'll often use only 1/4 of a peel or less to begin with.

And don't throw away that brine ... it can be added to many things as well (careful, though, it is SALTY!).

Here is one little recipe that you may find quite refreshing and brings a new flavor to the breakfast plate.

Scrambled Eggs with Cream Cheese and Preserved Lemon

Preserved Lemon, rind only, minced
Cream Cheese
Chives, finely chopped

I don't give amounts because I really haven't had time to measure it out, I do everything by sight and taste.

Chill, even partially freeze, and make a small dice of cream cheese (little 1/4-inch cubes).

Scramble the eggs and cook until about 80% done. Add the cream cheese and preserved lemon and finish cooking. I like my scrambled eggs soft, not hard. Garnish with chives.

You don't need to add salt because the preserved lemons will bring that. You add the cream cheese near the end because you don't want it to completely melt and integrate into the eggs. You want those little chunks of nearly melted cream cheese as you eat the eggs. Decadent. The salt and acid of the preserved lemon nicely balances and brightens the richness of the cream cheese and the egg. The chives bring color and savoriness.

If you want to go even further, consider adding some cooked shrimp or lump crab as well. Add with the cream cheese, or just before so that you are just reheating, not overcooking.

Give preserved lemons a try ... you won't be disappointed.

For almost daily updates on food preservation, be sure to check out the PreserveNation blog:

Last week I wrote a post on Food Preservation and Michael Pollan's new book, Food Rules:

And don't forget to join the PreserveNation Facebook group:

This Sunday I'll be at the Hollywood Farmers' Market and Wednesday at Santa Monica. See you there!

Happy Valentines' Day,

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