Preserved Lemons

I didn’t understand how much fun preserving food could be. At it’s heart, it’s about sustenance and security, but for me it’s becoming a way of taking even more control over my food and wrenching every last bit of flavor from it that I can.

Preserved lemons are a magical umami ingredient that I won’t ever be without again.

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Preserved Lemons


Lemon plus salt plus sugar plus time = magic

Adapted from the recipe by Clara Inés Schuhmacher and J. Kenji López-Alt at


  • Fresh Lemons (or other citrus)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Sugar
  • Extra Lemon Juice
  • Filtered Water


  1. Mix salt and sugar to a 2:1 ratio (two parts salt to one part sugar). I usually start with 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup of sugar, and mix more if I need it.
  2. Trim the stem end from the lemons and cut the into quarters from top to bottom. Toss the lemons in a portion of the salt-sugar in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.
  3. In a sterilized jar, layer a bit of the salt-sugar into the bottom of the jar. Add a layer of lemon, and top with more salt-sugar. Using a muddler or pickle stick (see notes) to press the lemons together in the jar. Repeat this layering until the jar is almost full.
  4. Top the jar off with the juice-salt-sugar from the bowl. Add more lemon juice or distilled water if necessary to submerge the lemons. Seal the jar with a good lid and leave the jar on the countertop.
  5. Turn the jar daily or as often as you can. The lemons will be ready in as few as two weeks, but only get better with age. Try to wait at least a month.
  6. Move the jars to the fridge and store for up to six months.


This is less a recipe than a method and is open to serious variations. Some recipes call for a 70/30 ratio of salt to sugar. Spices can also be added (clove and/or cinnamon, for example) to bring other flavors to the party.

You can preserve other citrus this way. Keep in mind, though that fruits like oranges aren't quite as acidic and will need to be reinforced with lemon juice.

Many recipes call for the lemons to be "nearly" quartered, by not cutting all the way through the lemon so that the four pieces remain connected to each other at one end. I'm not sure if this is just a traditional hold over, or a it's intended to make it easier to dole out one lemon's worth of preserves. Whatever the case, I quarter mine completely so that they'll fit better into the jars. I've had no issue doing it this way, and quarters seem to me to be a good measure of to work from when adding this ingredient to my own recipes.

Some recipes call for the jarred lemons to be transferred to the fridge immediately. This method was invented well before refrigeration even existed, so I'm not sure it's really necessary. I can't imagine anything could grow in such a salty acidic environment. I tend to leave mine out on the counter indefinitely. That's up to you. Your mileage may vary. Buyer beware.

A pickle stick (or kraut stick) is used to press cabbage or other vegetables into a crock for fermentation.

  • Prep Time: 24 hours 20 minutes
  • Additional Time: 0 hours
  • Cook Time: 730 hours