Preserved lemons are often used in a cooked dish, such as a tagine, but I like to use them straight from the jar, rinsed of their salt, flesh removed, and the skin and pith ready to go. Using them like this, it is important that the lemon is shaved or cut as finely as possible. You don’t want a big chunk of salted citrus in your mouth. It’s better to be subtle.
When preserved, the whole structure of the lemon changes. It becomes sour. It becomes rounded and deep, without the tang of fresh lemon. The other word for this is piquancy. In the salad I’ve prepared, the honey in the dressing becomes a foil for that. The individual components of this dish can be quite abrasive – the bitterness of the chicory, the sourness of the lemon and the raw shallots. But the honey pulls them together. It’s one of those things about balance in cooking. The result is delicious as a stand-alone salad, after a meal, or before pasta.
A jar of preserved lemons in the cupboard is a great thing to have as it can change a dish. Pounded using a mortar and pestle, with some olive oil and a drop or two of white wine vinegar, it can be great spooned over grilled fish. I also like to add a little diced preserved lemon to a salad of chopped parsley and onion, served with roast pork.
Knobbly bush lemons, unwaxed and with a thicker pith, are perfect for preserving. So are Lisbons, which have a thicker skin and pith than a Meyer lemon, for example.
If you want to speed up the preserving process, you can quarter the lemons before you layer them with salt. It is important to pack them tightly in a glass jar, so they won’t go mouldy. Any mould that can grow in that much salt and lemon juice cannot be good for you.
Once packed, half a cup of lemon juice can be used to cover the lemons in the jar. I keep them in a dark cupboard and forget them for a few weeks. I would advise against the temptation to have a big golden jar of them on the kitchen bench. Some people will add cinnamon sticks, which is nice but unnecessary. The flavour doesn’t really transfer.
As a rule I wouldn’t do much to an oyster except squeeze some lemon juice onto it and eat it. This dish is a nice alternative: it has the flavour of the lemon with another texture. The dressing, because of its thickness, coats the oyster nicely.
Chicory salad, preserved lemon and honey
– 2 bunches chicory
– 1 golden shallot
– ¼ preserved lemon, rinsed
– small handful parsley leaves
Use the tender, usually paler, chicory leaves from towards the heart of each bunch. Wash and dry them and snap the stalks into bite-sized pieces if they are long. Peel the shallot and slice it into rings as finely as possible.
Remove the pulpy flesh from the preserved lemon and discard it. Slice the preserved lemon skin into thin slivers.
Toss the chicory, shallot, parsley and preserved lemon in a bowl with the honey dressing.
– 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
– ½ tsp Dijon mustard
– ½ tsp honey
– 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mix the vinegar, mustard and honey, then whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Oysters with preserved lemon dressing
This is enough for about 36 oysters. Any remaining dressing could be used as a sauce for a roast chicken or fish.
– ¼ large preserved lemon
– 20ml chardonnay vinegar
– 80ml verjuice
– 80ml grape seed oil
– 1 tbsp finely sliced chives
– freshly shucked oysters
Remove the seeds from the preserved lemon and soak it in water for a few minutes to remove any excess salt. In a blender, puree the preserved lemon, chardonnay vinegar and verjuice. With the blender still running, add the oil in a steady stream and the dressing will emulsify.
Arrange the oysters on a plate of rock salt to steady them. Spoon one teaspoon of dressing over each freshly shucked oyster and top it with a little chopped chive.
2011 Witness Point sauvignon blanc, Yarra Valley ($20)
– Mark Williamson, sommelier, Cumulus Inc
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 25, 2014 as "Lemon aids". Subscribe here.