Preserved lemons are very easy to create, especially if you have a Sous Vide, and they are one of my absolute favorite ingredients to cook with. They add delicious layers of acid, salt and a bit of fermented funk to everything from salad dressings to pasta. All it takes is lemon, salt and time to create this delicious ingredient. If you have a sous vide you can make them in just a few days! I keep a jar of preserved lemons from Villa Jerada handy for when I my supply has run low or I'm looking for something more authentic.
Villa Jerada uses Beldi lemons from North Africa which have a unique aromatic flavor and floral notes as well as a very thin skin that allows you to use the entire lemon. The lemons most available in the US are Eureka Lemons and they have a thick pith that remains bitter after preserving. Don't fret if this is all you can find, you'll just need to scrape the white part off of the peel with the back of a knife or a spoon before you use them. If you can find Meyer lemons you'll have a better result. The flavor or each lemon is unique and will give you a slightly different result in your cooking.
It doesn't get much more simple. Scrub 3-4 lemons. Cut the lemon in quarters lengthwise, dredge the cut sides in salt. Sprinkle 1/4 inch salt in the bottom of a glass jar (I like the kind with the hinged lid because the salt quickly corrodes the metal rings of ball jars), put the lemon wedges in the jar fitting them snuggly so there is no air and sprinkle in more salt between each layer and on top. Press down on the lemons to release the juice. You want the lemons covered in salt and lemon juice, very tightly packed in. Some people add peppercorns or bay leaves at this point but I prefer to keep mine simple and add other flavors later. Cover the jar with a tight fitting lid and put them in a cool room temperature place, shaking the jar every day for 3-4 weeks until the peel is very tender. After that keep them in the refrigerator.
If you happen to have a sous vide you can shortcut this process from a few weeks to a couple of days. Follow all the instructions but keep the lid of the jar just finger tight (like canning preserves). Place the jar in a sous vide pre-heated to 185 degrees with the water level just up to the lid height and not over. Alternatively you can put the lemons and salt into bags and vacuum seal them. Keep the lemons in the 185 bath for 4 hours. If you used bags dump the entire contents into a glass jar at this point. Keep your finished jar in the fridge. After a couple of days they're ready to use.
If you have the authentic Moroccan preserved lemons made with Beldi lemons you can use the entire lemon as is, you don't even need to rinse them. If you are working from your home made preserved lemons you will want to rinse them off completely and scrape the white pith away from the yellow rind. The white part is bitter. You can use the inside of the lemon in many ways including a salad dressing. That bright yellow rind though is mostly what you'll want to use. You can slice it up and put it in pasta, dice it in a salad dressing and a variety of other uses. Here are some of our favorite ways to use preserved lemons.