Preserved Lemons Brighten a Stir-Fry

February 17, 2012

preserved-lemons-brighten-a-stir-fryA JAR of preserved lemons sitting in the fridge is a boon for the busy cook. Chopped up and tossed into salads, stews and sautés, they add a bright, nuanced burst of flavor in one speedy step — as long as you happen to have some on hand.

If you don’t, you could whip up a batch and let it cure for a week. Or you could go out and buy a jar, which, unless you happen to live near a Middle Eastern grocery, could involve a subway, car or bus ride. Both options negate the quick and effortless part of the equation.

There is, however, another possibility that takes 10 minutes: making your own quick lemon preserve, or lemon pickle.

Instead of letting the age-old combination of salt and time tame the bitterness of lemon pith by themselves, heat and sugar speed the process along, pickling the citrus in minutes. Just blanch a thinly sliced lemon to remove some of its bite, then simmer it again in a pot of heavily sugared and salted water. You’ll end up with lemon slivers that are at once salty, sweet, sour and bitter — and far more interesting than they should be given the amount of work that went into them. They get even better when you fry them in oil, letting their flavors caramelize and turn honeyed.

This technique works particularly well with Meyer lemons, which are sweeter and milder than regular lemons and generally contain less bitter pith beneath the rind. Regular lemons can work too, but blanch them in plain water twice before simmering them in the sugar-salt mixture. (Instructions for preserving lemons a more traditional way can be found at

You could use the quick-preserved lemon slices as the base of any soup or stew, as long as you let them get good and golden before adding any other ingredients to the pan (otherwise they might steam instead of caramelizing). Or try tossing them with vegetables before roasting.

For this stir-fry, I brown the slices, then mix them with nuggets of chicken, aromatic fresh rosemary and plenty of tender, melting leeks. It makes a hearty dish that takes well under an hour to throw together — pickling time included.
Courtesy The New York Times

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