It was a bit of a cultural shock the first time I really went grocery shopping after I moved to Iowa from southern California. Meat was cheaper, everything in general was cheaper, but produce and citrus was expensive! I was used to getting my lemons in abundance and at a good price, I was not used to paying nearly a dollar a piece for them!
What is a preserved lemon? Its basically a lemon that has been pickled in its own juice and salt, with or without the addition of oil or spices.
How do you use it? Pretty much anywhere you would like a bit of bright savory citrus punchiness. Sometimes adding a bit of acid to a dish can perk it up, whether its lemon or lime juice or even a flavored vinegar. You don't need to add alot, just a touch. The part you will add to the dish is the lemon rind, after you have scraped away the pulp and given it a slight rinse to take away some of the saltiness. The spiced lemon juice in the jar can also be added, in tiny amounts, as it is quite salty.
Also pickling lemons is a good way to preserve a big lemon crop if you have alot of lemons. They will also keep a long while in your fridge pickled this way.
Many many many types and ways of pickling lemons are out there to be found, but I believe they all basically have in common two ingredients: lemons and kosher or sea salt. Some recipes add additional lemon juice or water, some add oil, many if not most will add spices and seasoning. Many recipes will use Meyer lemons, but I think that a regular grocery store lemon will do just fine. Use a clean jar, but with all the salt and acid in this recipe, if its not sterilized, I believe you will do just fine. But, sterilize your jar if your good cook's common sense tells you to. No matter what a recipe instructs you to do, use your good cook's common sense, the best expert in your kitchen is you! I used a quart jar, but this can be done in any size jar, just make sure you push the lemons so that they cover themselves in their own juice.
You will need:
6-8 lemons (if using quart jar)
sea salt, kosher salt (but not iodized salt)
clean quart jar (use a widemouth jar if you have it, if not, obviously use what you have)
1 tsp each of the spices and seasonings of your choice: black, green or pink peppercorns, coriander seeds, allspice seeds, bayleaf, crushed cinnamon stick (I used green peppercorns, coriander and cinnamon stick)
Scrub your lemons with a fine brush under hot water to take off any wax and to clean the rind, as this will be the part you will use in any recipe. You can tell when its clean because it will feel squeaky clean.
Cut off the tips from both ends, and cut the lemons into quarters almost, but not all the way through. Unfortunately, I only had a small mouth quart jar available, so I just quartered mine all the way through, I feel certain this will not affect the end result.
Pour a nice layer of salt into your jar, then sprinkle about 1 tbsp of salt into each lemon 'blossom', and push it into your jar. Keep cutting, salting, and pushing your lemons, occasionally adding a layer of salt, and sprinkling in your seasonings, until your jar is very very full. Then push those lemons down until they release enough juice to cover everything. If you really press hard, your lemons should release enough juice. Top off with a small layer of salt and seal tightly. Leave out on your counter for a few days, or a week, (some recipes have advised to keep it on your counter for the whole pickling time) shaking everyday to distribute the salt around. Then keep in your refrigerator for about 4 weeks before using.
To use: take a section of lemon out, rinse well and scrape the pulp. You can keep the pulp and press through a strainer and add this to your recipe as well if you would like. Take your pickled rind and slice thinly, then add to your recipes. This works well in middle eastern or moroccan recipes, but, I know many people who will add lemon to their soups and stews and this would be a perfect application for your pickled rind. Slow simmering and stewing will really bring out the brightness. I think a small amount of minced rind, mixed with olive oil and minced garlic, would make a great seasoning for grilled fish or shrimp, and this would where you could use a bit of the juice of the pulp. Oh, and a twist of preserved lemon rind would be a most impressive addition to your Bloody Mary!