Culinary Anthropologist

Preserved lemons


To make up for the absence of recipes this last month, here is a
citrussy pair suited to the season, complete with nerdy citrussy facts.
 I think preserving oranges and lemons is fun.  You might not, of
course.  (The lemons are for Anthea, who assures me she’s interested.)

preserved lemons.JPG

It’s really easy to preserve your own lemons, and once you have a jar of them you’ll find yourself adding them to tagines (eg chicken with lemon and olives), salsas (with shallots and fresh herbs, to go on grilled fish or meat), salads and couscous dishes…

This recipe is from Paula Wolfert, goddess of Mediterranean cuisines and author of ‘Couscous and other good food from Morocco’ from where it comes.  One of my favourite jobs at Chez Panisse was preserving lemons, which we did whenever stocks ran low.  They usually preserve Meyer lemons, as they are so sweet, fruity and fragrant, but any lemons will work.

The lemons are preserved by lacto-fermentation.  Special lactobacteria enjoy the salty conditions and cause fermentation.  They produce an acid (which helps preserve the lemons, and tastes great) and carbon dioxide (which displaces the air in the jar above the lemons, also helping preserve them).  Lots of the best foods are lacto-fermented – sourdough bread, yoghurt, kimchi, chocolate, sauerkraut…


Preserved lemons.pdf

Makes:  as much as you want
Preparation time:  30 mins
Curing time:  one month

unwaxed lemons, with beautiful, unblemished skins (preferably Meyer, but not necessarily)
salt (preferably ‘kosher’ as it dissolves fast, but not necessarily)
lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice (from any lemons)
one cinnamon stick (optional)
3 cloves (optional)
6 coriander seeds (optional)
4 black peppercorns (optional)
one bay leaf (optional)

  1. Scrub clean the lemons.
  2. Scrub clean a glass
    jar which is large enough to hold the lemons tightly packed and which has a tight-fitting lid.  Sprinkle a tablespoon of salt in the bottom.
  3. Cut the stem end tips off the lemons.  You need only cut off a very small amount.
  4. Hold a lemon with the cut end up and make a vertical incision through the centre but do not cut the lemon in half – stop about ½” before the bottom.  Make a second cut perpendicular to the first, as if cutting the lemon into 4 wedges, but again stop short of the end by ½”.  Repeat with remaining lemons.
  5. Working over a small bowl, prise open a lemon and liberally sprinkle salt inside, coating all of the cut surfaces.  Place it in the jar.  Repeat with the remaining lemons, using the salt caught in the bowl as well.  Stuff them all tightly in the jar, squishing out their juices, and sprinkle another tablespoon or so of salt on top.  If using, put the spices in the jar as you go.
  6. Fill jar with extra lemon juice so that all lemons are completely covered with the salty lemon juice.  This is important.  Do not be tempted to top it up with water.  If needed place some kind of weight inside the jar to ensure lemons are submerged.
  7. Cover and leave in a warm room for one month while the lemons ferment.  If using a preserving jar with rubber seal, as pictured here, you can clamp it shut as they’re designed to let out gas.  If using a regular jar, leave it loosely closed, or cover with muslin instead, so that gas can escape as the lemons ferment.  Every day or two give the jar a shake.
  8. Now transfer jar to a cool place, such as a larder, and tighten lid.  The longer you keep them, the better they’ll get.  Eventually the liquid will turn deliciously syrupy.
  9. To use, spoon out a lemon and rinse off excess salty liquid.  Pull apart the segments, cut away any pips, and the flesh too if it tastes too salty (but it should be delicious), then cut into dice, slithers or however desired.  The lemons should keep for at least a year.  When making your next batch you can reuse the juice from the previous jar.

Learn more about lemons.

preserved lemons 2.JPG


  1. Angela Nubbert

    Hi Anna
    Love your website and reading all about your passion for good food; I’m hoping to book on your preserving course in February (husband’s Christmas Gift) but in the meantime wonder if you can help. I make homemade chocolates and often use the rind of fresh lemons and oranges, sometimes the juice but I’m often left with lots of rindless lemons/oranges left over and don’t know what to do with them, will they preserve just as well without the rind? Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks. Angela

  2. Anna

    Hi Angela
    Thank you!
    I don’t think preserving lemons without their rind is to be recommended, as it’s mostly the rind that you use. The flesh of preserved lemons becomes very salty, so I often scrape it out before using just the preserved rind, which is delicious.
    If I were you I would juice everything, and if you can’t use the juice immediately, freeze it for another day. If you have loads of juice you could boil to reduce it, which makes a wonderfully intense essence, great for dressings.
    There is only one place left at the February preserving workshops, on the Sunday (3rd Feb, 10am-3pm)! So if you’d like to come you should book very soon before it goes! Just email me on
    All the best, Anna