It was our friends Chris and Zoya that turned us onto the idea of cold-smoked citrus a few years back. I had never thought of the idea but found the idea (and then the taste) of smoked limes and lemons to be amazing in cocktails and have been doing it ever since. As we brain-stormed other uses for smoked citrus I became obsessed with the idea of making smoked lemons preserved in salt.
If you’ve never had lemons preserved in salt then you should know they are as delicious as they are easy to make! The recipe is simple – combine cut lemons with a bunch of salt and some additional lemon juice in a jar, shake and wait. The salt pulls liquid from the lemons to create a brine while also softening the lemons to the point that they are edible in their entirely. TO use them you simply chop the fruit (peels and all) into small pieces and add the chunks, salt and liquid brine to any meal that you’d add citrus or acid too. I love to add them to chicken stew, rice or soup.
If you’ve never cooked with this ingredient you should know a little goes a long way. When we started making preserved lemons I found that using a 1/2 slice (about 1/16th of a lemon) added a LOT of flavour and was all that I wanted. Over the years I’ve been using them I’ve found that I’ve gradually adapted my taste and use as much as 1/4 cup in dishes that I used to use far less in.
If you decide to create this recipe I recommend that you store the limes and lemons in different jars to keep their flavours separate. You can always combine after but if you store them together you’ll never be able to separate the two.
OK, all of the formalities and explanation are out of the way but I still haven’t answered the pressing question – was it worth the additional effort of smoking the lemons to make this preserve? Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes. The gentle smell of smoke is noticeable the moment you crack a jar of these open. The jars smell as if they were gently kissed by a campfire. The smell translates into the brine, salt and lemons themselves and add a layer of richness to the preserved lemons that add a touch of smoke to anything you’re cooking without dominating a dish. The smoke is gentle enough to add to whitefish while being prominent enough to add something special to rice as it steams on the stove.
I tend to smoke multiple things at a single time. When I smoke lemons I place them directly above the smoke as they will absorb lots of flavor without losing the essence of their own taste. I always cut the lemons in half (as shown in the photo above) to expose their flesh to the smoke and then slice or squeeze them further after smoking. Smoked lemons will last in your fridge for weeks (even if they’ve been cut) so don’t be afraid to smoke extra for cocktails, cooking or to squeeze onto cooking (imagine grilling shellfish and finishing them with smoked lemon juice!)
I recommend using hardwood for smoking citrus. I’ve used hickory, oak and a combination of the two very successfully. If you’re using softwood you will want to smoke them longer and consider using fruit wood such as apple or cherry.
- 10 organic lemons (you can do this with limes as well)
- ½ cup coarse salt
- Cut lemons across the bias (in the opposite direction of the slices) and remove any excessive nubs from the top or bottom of the fruit.
- Light your cold smoker and smoke for 6-10 hours.
- Squeeze the juice of 4 lemon halves into a clean mason jar.
- Cut each lemon half into 8 slices and toss in a bowl with salt (this ensures the salt is distributed evenly).
- Add the lemons and salt to the mason jar, place a lid on top and shake every few days.
- Store at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 30 days. They will darken in color over time (placing in fridge after 30 days will reduce color loss but is not necessary).