March 3rd, 2008

The gentleman is always properly dressed

Ocean Breathes Salty

In late January, I made my first attempt at preserved lemons. Though they're technically ready now, I've read that they're best if you wait at least three months prior to using them, so it will be almost May before I think about tossing them chopped with feta cheese and olives into a salad, or using them to flavor broiled fish or lamb stew. Like so many other things I've experimented with, making them is mind-numbingly simple. Halved meyer lemons are placed in a large sealable jar and literally covered with coarse salt. In the following weeks, the whole has shrunk roughly a third in volume and the lemons have created their own brine as the juice has slowly leached from them. I've added more salt on two occasions - keeping the lemons covered was recommended - but otherwise, the biggest effort has been in the waiting.

...and worrying. I can't tell you how much unnecessary fretting I've done over what was essentially meant to be a fire and forget project. There are as many ways to make preserved lemons as there are to cook with them, and as I've browsed, I've wondered if I should have gone with one of the other treatments. Should I have gone with a brined method instead of salt-packed? Perhaps I might have thought of the addition of bay leaves, or coriander, or any of the other myriad of herbs and spices whose subtle variations could be the final push for the ingredient to enter into the sublime?

I do this with everything. Paralysis, thy name is perfection.

Incidentally, I've gotten word from a colleague's Sicilian relative - the one who has made his own prosciutto and sopressata for nigh on thirty years - that saltpeter is really an optional addition in the preserved meat game. To the best of his understanding, the main reason for including nitrites in the cure is to enhance color, but he won't use it because he doesn't like what it does to the taste of the meat.