Preserved lemons are a wonderful thing to prepare in the dark depths of winter, as the bright colours and fragrant scent of the lemons will bring a breath of summer into your kitchen. They also make a great gift, as they look very attractive in their jars, are difficult to buy (in Ireland, anyway), and taste glorious. I suggest printing out the accompanying recipe for Spiced Chicken to go with a jar of lemons.
- Unwaxed lemons (organic if possible) – enough to fit in each jar and then more to make lemon juice with
- coarse sea salt
- a few cinnamon sticks (per jar)
- 2 tsp coriander seeds (per jar)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper corns (per jar)
- a few bay leaves (per jar)
- virgin olive oil
Wash the lemons well and cut each one as if into quarters, but without quite completing the cut, so that they can open up. Holding each lemon open, put 2 tsp salt into the lemon. Squeeze it closed and place it in a sterilized jar. Repeat this until the jar is about three quarters full. Place a weight, like a glass or smaller jar full of water, on top of the lemons, cover, and leave in a warm place for 2 to 3 days to allow the juices to run out.
Next, remove the weight and add the cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, peppercorns and fresh bay leaves. Add enough fresh lemon to juice to completely cover the lemons. I recommend straining the lemon juice through a fine sieve to make the juice clear. Finally, top up the jar with about an inch of olive oil. This oil will imbibe the oils released by the lemons and become an invaluable ingredient in your cooking, so be generous with the oil! It does more than just create an air tight seal. Close the jars tightly and leave in a dark place for 1 to 3 months. The flavour will really improve with time, so give them plenty of time to develop a deep flavour. As they mature, the salty flavour will become less dominant and an intense lemony flavour will rule the day.
When the period of waiting is finally over, you will be longing to make something delicious with your preserved lemons. I can highly recommend the following chicken dish. Its golden colours support its fragrant lemon and spice aroma, and it makes an excellent showcase for the role of preserved lemons in your cooking. If you haven’t used preserved lemons before, this will give you an idea of their potential and place you in a position to explore with your own concoctions.
Spiced Chicken on Melting Onions with Preserved Lemons
This recipe is adapted from the inspiring book Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry. It is a traditional Moroccan dish. The quantities below should serve 4 people.
- 1 jointed chicken
- 2 tblsp sunflower oil
- 3 onions, halved and sliced into half-moons
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 8 fl oz (225 ml) chicken stock or water (French onion soup stock cubes work well)
- 1/2 tsp saffron threads
- 3 oz (85 g) green olives
- 1/2 preserved lemon
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp each of ground cumin, paprika and cayenne
- 4 tblsp oil
- 2 tblsp lemon oil, from the preserved lemons
- salt and pepper
- For the marinade, scoop out the flesh from the lemon with a teaspoon and chop it finely. Set the rind aside to use later in the sauce. Mix the flesh with the other marinade ingredients.
- Rub the marinade over the chicken pieces, working it in under the skin. Cover, or place in a plastic bag, and leave in the fridge for at least 3 hours, and ideally overnight.
- Bring the stock to the boil and add the saffron. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a wide, oven-proof pan. Add the chicken and over a high heat, brown it on all sides. Lower the heat, and remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside.
- In the same juices, slowly cook the onions. You want them to be golden and translucent, rather than black and crispy! As they begin to soften, add the turmeric and cook for another minute. Add the warm stock, the chicken pieces, and any juices that have escaped from the chicken. Don’t worry if there doesn’t seem to be enough liquid – the chicken should be almost resting on top of the onion so that it can become golden brown while it is in the oven.
- Cook in an oven preheated to 180°C for 30 minutes. Cut the lemon rind into fine strips and add it to the dish with the olives half way through the cooking.
I like to serve this with fragrant jasmine rice or with couscous.
- 400 g jasmine rice
- 800 ml water
- pinch salt
- 1 tblsp sunflower oil
In a pan, heat 1 tblsp oil. Add the rice and stir until it is translucent. Then add the water and salt, stir, cover, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a low setting and continue cooking for 15 minutes. Leave to sit off the heat for 5 minutes before serving.
- 400 g couscous
- 800 ml stock
- pinch of saffron strands
Put the dry couscous in a bowl. Make a stock and pour it over the grain. Stir in a few strands of saffron, and leave for an hour. Ten minutes before serving, fluff the grain into a steamer (separating the grains, fingers are best for this) and steam it for ten minutes.