Preserved Meyer Lemons add exquisite flavor to so many dishes. The long and slow fermentation gives the lemons a vibrant saltiness and brings bright citrus and complex tartness to your cooking. All you need is lemons, salt, and some patience, and soon you will have something incredible to enjoy all year long.
This delicious condiment is Whole30, paleo, keto, gluten-free, grain free, dairy free, sugar free, and of course, vegan!
It’s the slow and long fermentation process is what is needed to break down the lemon rind and the bitter lemon flavor. You’re left with this bright and complex lemon flavor that goes incredibly with grilled fish, roasted chicken and vegetables.
You’ll experiment using them in Moroccan tanginess and even beyond that, they are wonderful in couscous dishes, warm stews, pesto, salad dressings. The possibilities of how to use the preserved lemons is truly endless! Stay tuned for a special chicken dish coming up using the preserved lemons!
I know I’ve mentioned before that I have this thing with jars of goodies in my fridge. It’s the Calabrian mother-in-law effect. It’s very satisfying to open my fridge door and see jars of beautiful things I created. And that with time, are getting better fermenting and preserving right before my eyes. Like these gorgeous preserved Meyer lemons.
You can find preserved lemons in specialty markets (and online), but they are expensive. The recipe takes not even 10 minutes to prep. But it does take a full month (at least!) for the lemons and the salt to come together. The lemons are transformed from being simply salty lemons to actual preserved lemons (all the salt preserved them).
All it takes is salt and lots of patience…and you will have preserved lemons with that special umami and that alluring lemon flavor that will make your dish even more delicious! You’ll find preserved lemons in Algerian couscous dishes, stews from Tunisia, Moroccan tagines, and even Greek chicken recipes.
What are preserved Meyer lemons?
Preserved lemons is a traditional Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Greek condiment where its salty and sour flavor adds a unique accent to classic tagines and so many other recipes.
Preserved lemons are lemons that are salted and packed into jars. If you can’t get your hands on any Meyer lemons, you could use conventional lemons. The Meyer lemons are ideal as they have thinner skin. The Meyer lemons lose their bitterness and ferment quicker than thicker skinned conventional lemons.
It takes about a month for the lemons and salt to work their magic and transform from salty lemons to preserved ones. The salt is fermenting and preserving the lemons naturally. The lemons end up having bacteria that is actually really good for your gut!
I do know countries that leave them on their counter once preserved, but you don’t want that good bacteria to turn into bad bacteria, so I highly recommend keeping in the fridge!
How do you make preserved Meyer lemons?
The first step is to gather all your ingredients. I recommend using kosher salt, but there are recipes that use sea salt. So if all you have is sea salt on hand, go ahead and use that. I happened to have Sicilian kosher sea salt on hand, and used that.
I topped my jars off with extra-virgin olive oil after the 4th day it was resting on my counter. Some recipes use a light oil to store it in the fridge and some don’t. I’m so used to my mother-in-law Teresa and all her preserving that uses olive oil, so I went with the olive oil route.
The next step is to slice the lemons. I chose to slice them in very thin wedges. There are also other versions where the lemons are whole with slices in them.
The next step is to roll the lemon pieces around in salt. I added the salt into a small casserole.
BEFORE you add the lemons to the salt, don’t forget to remove the seeds. Meyer lemons have more seeds than conventional lemons. I did miss a few and ended up digging them out of the jars while I was packing them.
The final step is to pack the lemon wedges into the jars (I used different sized jars, but 6 Meyer lemons yields about a 1 pint mason jar. On the 4th day after it has been in a cool and dark place, add olive oil to the top of the lemons. You could use light olive oil, avocado oil and even grape seed oil. I used extra-virgin olive oil (from Sicily), as that’s what I had on hand.
What do you make with preserved lemons?
Preserved lemons are pretty commonly used in North Africa and Moroccan cooking. In Morocco they’re cooked in tangines and are delicious paired with chicken, like this chicken with preserved Meyer lemons and olives, and even fish.
Once the lemons are preserved, remove a pieces from the jar, rinse off the extra salt, and chop the rind (I even use the flesh).
You could rinse and chop a lemon and add to a tuna salad (a total umami bomb that is so good for you!). Add them to cauliflower rice and sautéed greens. Make a lemon butter and add to slow cooked chicken dish.
Just perfect in sauces (aioli!)and vinaigrettes. They taste slightly floral and tart, and remember they are salty, so don’t add more salt to your sauce or whatever you’re adding them to without first checking if it is salty enough. If you don’t rinse before using, it will add a lot of salt to the recipe.
I find myself rinsing and chopping the lemons and adding them to every thing these days that could use a touch of citrus! Basically, whatever recipe you are adding bright lemon flavor to, you can also include preserved Meyer lemons. The possibilities are truly endless!
How long do preserved lemons last?
The lemons are ready to use when their rinds are softer (the salt totally softens them). The salt fermentation does take time. In about a month or two they are ready to use.
Use the preserved lemons up in 6 months to a year. As I mentioned above, they could be kept on the counter at room temperature (the salty fermented brine preserves it). But I prefer to keep safe and recommend keeping them in the fridge.
PIN for later!
Tips for making preserved lemons:
- You could use Meyer lemons (if they’re in season and you can find them, use them!), or conventional lemons. Meyer lemons have thin skin and it will preserve quicker than conventional lemons. Also, they’ll be less bitter and more floral and tart.
- The salt: I used Sicilian kosher salt. Sea salt is also fine to preserve the lemons. I found recipes that only recommend kosher salt and some that ONLY recommend sea salt. I liked working with the kosher salt.
- An option is to to cut them into very thin quarters like I did, or you could leave them whole.
- If you leave them whole, cut the very ends off and quarter them leaving the bottom connected.
- Preserving whole lemons (with cuts in them)you end up salting the cavity of the lemons, instead of the actual quarters. Either way, they’ll ferment just fine with time.
- Make sure the jars are in a dark and cool spot for the four days when they are at room temperature.
- VERY important: Make sure they are covered with enough lemon juice for the first days on the counter. The brine made from the all the juice and salt will prevent any bad bacteria from growing.
- Very important to use an airtight container to help prevent mold formation. I used STERILIZED mason jars.
- The longer they are left alone in the fridge (I didn’t use mine for a full month), the more TIME the salt will get to do its magic and the fermentation takes place.
Other easy jarred recipes:
I used guidance from a Martha Stewart recipe and from a Paula Wolfert Moroccan recipe (I found a couple of her versions and one is a quicker one that maybe one day I’d like to try).
Originally published August 2020 and republished on August 2021.
Preserved Meyer Lemons
- 6 Meyer lemons organic is best, if you can find them
- 1/4 cup kosher salt and more to top of jars
- 2/3 cups Meyer lemon juice or conventional lemon juice
- extra-virgin olive oil to add to top of jars before storing in fridge (a mild olive oil, avocado oil or grape seed oil will also do fine)
- Cover the bottom of a bowl or casserole with some of the kosher salt.
- Thoroughly clean lemons and trim off the nubs both ends.
- Slice them in half, then into quarters, then eighths. As you cut them remove the seeds-Meyer lemons have many seeds.
- Toss the lemon wedges very well in the kosher salt.
- Pack the salted lemons into the jar.
- Use the handle of a cooking spoon (or a pestle) to press down on the lemons to allow them to release their juices and pack tightly into the jar.
- Continue packing in lemons, until you have no more room to add more wedges.
- Press down until the juice from the lemons covers the majority of the lemons. Use the spoon handle to push them together and really pack them closely together.
- If there isn't enough juice after pressing, add the additional lemon juice.
- Sprinkle on some more salt (about a tablespoon) over the top of the lemons before sealing the jar (I made two small jars).
- The mixture of salt and lemon juice will preserve the lemons. The salted lemons will give off a little more juice as they begin to cure.
- Leave an inch below top of jar and seal it.
- Leave them in a cool and dark place and gently shake them a couple times a day for four days. Add some oil (I used extra-virgin olive oil, but you could use any light oil, like avocado oil or grape seed oil) on top of the lemons, seal the jars and then store them in the fridge. It is normal that you will notice that the salt will make the liquid thicken and turn a bit cloudy. Give them a shake every week (I was still shaking mine every day).
- After a month, your preserved lemons will be ready to use.
I added extra-virgin olive oil on top of the lemon juice. Just to make sure it was truly completely covered.
Once preserved (after 1-3 months in the fridge), they still stay good in the fridge for up to 1 year.
Be sure to completely cover the lemon wedges with enough lemon juice and or extra-virgin olive oil. If the lemon wedges are not fully covered by the liquid, or your equipment wasn't sterile, the preserved lemons can develop mold. You could even use conventional lemon juice (not the bottled)to cover the lemons (they have more acidity than Meyer lemons).
Use your common sense when evaluating whether to eat preserved or fermented foods.
To use, remove however much preserved lemon your recipe calls for from the jar and rinse it off before chopping it finely and adding it to your recipe.