SFC: The Deep Pickle, Part 4 (The Revenge! Wait, revenge is sweet…)

                When I was in culinary school, we learned a quick, one-day method for making “preserved lemons” during our African Cuisine class. The memory is hazy, but it involved cutting them in half, putting them in a hot skillet with saltwater (I think) and in the oven for a bit before shoving into a jar. Or something like that. Suffice it to say, it was an interesting thing to do, though the results were less than impressive (not bad, just… not noteworthy).

                My particular intrigue in this particular Moroccan culinary item was peaked again after seeing the full preparation method utilized on TV (no, this one wasn’t Alton, it was someone else… who I’m too ashamed to say). This being soon after I practiced full mason-jar-pickling, and the actual method of it being quite simple, I thought it’d be fun to attempt (and give myself another great pantry ingredient).

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Preserved Lemons

8 (ish) Lemons (ideally small)

Coarse Kosher or Sea Salt

Juice of 4 Lemons

½ cup EV Olive Oil

Bay Leaves, Cloves, Other Whole Spices (Optional)

                Starting with our equipment, we sterilize our Mason Jar as with the usual boiling method. You’ll want to grab the biggest Jar/s you can find (maybe decorated from a recent holiday), though the size of the jar is nowhere near as important to ensuring it has a very wide Mouth (you’ll see why later).

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                Cut the lemons in Deep Crosswise slices, almost cutting them in quarters but stopping right at the bud. Basically you want to keep them as whole as possible, while opening the insides up for “stuffing” (which makes me wonder if there are other cutting designs that can be tried out, like scooping V-slices).

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                Take your Salt and press a liberal sprinkle right into the flesh; like a Tablespoon or two at least. The proposed method for using this, and definitely great if you can do it, is to do this over a large pile (medium bowl, filled) of the salt and just do it by hand. Super easy, don’t have to wash hands or worry about salt going everywhere, but it becomes a big waste for all the salt you DON’T get in (as it’s now polluted with dripping citrus juice), so it has to be thrown or used immediately in some salt-heavy dish. So for those who are a bit conscious in how much they use, I sprinkled directly from the box, over a bowl so I can collect and immediately use the leftover salt.

                From here we can start stacking in the sterilized jars…

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                … is what I’d like to say, if I had a wide-mouth jar. If I did, we could just push the lemons in whole. However, some of us don’t have jars large enough, or lemons that are just too damn big, so we have to improvise, which as far as I can tell shouldn’t have affected the quality of my lemons at all (or if it did, VERY very small). I just cut mine in half, crosswise or lengthwise, and then a similar cross-cut as before to better stuff. Personally I think I prefer the length-wise cut better for getting and stuffing into the jar, though I’m not sure if there’s any curing advantage.

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                Either way, stuff the lemons deep into the glass, sprinkling some more salt every now and then between (at least if you’re not sure you stuffed enough salt inside) citruses. Go right to underneath the rim, and do NOT be afraid to squish and shove things down tight; we want that sort of environement. Probably while you’re doing this, or once done, you can choose to insert some bay leaves along the side of the glass, or a few other chosen spices between layers (or even in the lemon cuts beforehand) to flavor the preservation. I decided to keep mine simple and plain just to see what it’s like.

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                Fill with a 50-50 mix of water and some of the lemon juice, to the top, cover and leave on the counter for about two days. By this point the lemons would have softened a bit (you can sorta see it in the jar, just looky!) and you can shove one or maybe two extra ones back in. Re-fill with lemon juice as needed, and then top with Olive Oil to better form a lipid barrier (which I COMPLETELY forgot to do and am only just realizing! God I hope my results aren’t drastically different than what they should have been).

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                Re-cover and leave in a room temperature location, doesn’t need to be fridged or put in the snow, for at LEAST 3 weeks, a little over a month ideal (at least for me).

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                By the end you’ll have a soft, malleably pungent chunk of citrus that can be placed in any soup, stew, sauce, marinade, salad, or whichever kind of food one desires. Following a few simple rules, and supposing the flavor fits, of course. Firstly, despite its deliciousness, one should not be eating this “raw,” as-is; just a bit TOO much for that. If you want it in a very minimalistic, “pure” or fresh connotation as opposed to manipulated flavors, should still Blanch for at least 5 minutes (great to blend in salad dressings, or julienne fine afterwards for a garnish).

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                Secondly, when using, one can most likely get rid of or reduce the amount of salt used in the dish. And Lastly, you’re only using this for the Skin. When applying for cooking, you want to peel the flesh out (which is accomplished really easily and cleanly, as can see by the pic) and toss it, as it is supposedly unusable… at least that’s what I’ve heard, I also ran across a stew recipe that used some of it. Sooooo… best left to your own judgment in the situation I think?

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                As for what we can make with it here, could easily stick with a classic Moroccon Lamb (or other meat) Tagine, like I made one night… and will probably wrap in a tortilla for work tomorrow. Or we could use it to substitute and enhance the lemon aspect of another recipe, sayyyy… something Shrimp based….

Preserved Lemon Shrimp Scampi (after adjustments)

1/3 Cup Olive Oil

½ Head of Garlic (5-6 large Cloves)

1 Small Onion

½ Preserved Lemon Peel

1-3 Tb (depending) Fresh Herbs, chopped

Ground Black Pepper

1 Package, 24-32 Large Shrimp

                I saw a fun recipe for Shrimp Scampi that I thought would be great to put in a Taco, though I had to adjust it a bit (can you believe they only used 4 small cloves of garlic and TWO whole onions? I mean seriously), then re-adjust from some… -cough- overestimations.

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                Start by heating up the olive oil to about a medium-low to medium level. While this is going, mince the onions and garlic to very small portions, almost a paste: using a grater works really well for this purpose.

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                Dice the Lemon peel small, almost to a mince, and transfer to the hot oil along with the onion and garlic. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, add your Herb of choice (Tarragon works really well, or Cilantro since we’re doing a Taco, but I only had Sage) and a pinch of Pepper, and keep cooking 1-2 minutes more. By the end, the veggies should have softened, released their rich aromatics, and not have any form of caramelization to them.

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                Let this cool a bit in the pan, and prepare your shrimp as needed.

                Peel, devein, disassemble, or do whatever your particular shrimp needs doing so as to leave it as desired for the preparation. Traditionally, this would be with only the tail on, but for this use all shells should come off; also, I like cutting them in half so as not to deal with the weird, large circular whole pieces. (Though a note on selection, I would have LOVED to use those really tiny, flavor-packed Rock Shrimp, and suggest them highly if you have the chance)

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                This does leave me with a lot of leftover shells though, which I hate to throw away, and you shouldn’t either. If you have them, I suggest sautéing in a pan, covering with water and boil/simmering for a few hours to make a Shrimp Stock, great for Sauces, Soups, or other uses (I used it for my liquid base when making a Rice Pilaf).

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                Mix shrimp and garlic mixture in bowl (yes, my garlic turned green… no I’m not sure why, but I assume it was due to an olive oil absorption) and let “marinate” for as long as desired. The original recipe only did it for 30 minutes… but again, seriously? I popped it in the fridge for the afternoon, whoooo Go Garlic!

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                There are probably a few ways one could cook this, with the most oft used and generally useful being to Broil at High, which only takes 5 minutes. I tried it, and it looked beautiful and turned out tasty, but I wasn’t fully satisfied for the final results. I’m sure it worked great for the original recipe, or maybe it was that my broiler wasn’t AS hot as “ideal,” but ultimately the garlic marinade never cooked around it ideally (harsh as it is to say, but I might have had too much garlic in there initially… thus the adjusted recipe). Next time, I’ll probably end up skewering them in bunches and grilling; always been my FAVORITE way of shrimp preparation anyways, no matter the use and flavors.

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                Once cooked as desired, it’s simply a matter of assembling your taco however you want. I did use the Flour Tortilla in this, I will defend that point; it’s basically a European based recipe, so I find it acceptable (plus there’s many a Caribbean seafood taco that uses flour over masa/corn). A little bit of the Shrimp Rice (also cooked with a bit of preserved lemon), some Salsa, Onion-Celery Slaw, and a fresh grating of Parm on top, and we have ourselves a tender, garlicky bundle of perfumed lemony goodness (and salsa, much salsa…).

I hope this post has helped to get you thinking about even more ways to “cure” and “pickle” the various produce we interact with on a day to day basis. Still I look forward to making even more things to fill this ever expanding “series” which I seem to be doing, and can’t wait to get onto the next delicious venture. But for now thanks for reading, enjoy your sour little condiment, and good luck preserving in the rest of the cold winter months.

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