Moroccan preserved lemon, a must-have in the Moroccan kitchen

Preserved lemon is a must-have condiment in every house in Morocco. It’s available in almost every market and sometimes even in small groceries. We usually wait for some type of lemon to make it. 
Either it’s made with “limoun eddak”, a small lime-looking lemon, quite famous in Fez, or a bigger 
type of lemon called “la bergamote” in French or « limoun bou sarra » in Arabic, referring the the belly-button due the 2 ends coming out of the lemon.
My ideal type of lemon for this recipe is “bergamote”, sweet and lemony at the same time
In this recipe, you need lemon and a brine to pickle it. The pulp of the preserved lemon can be used in stews and sauces although we discard it most of the time. The peel or skin is actually the star of the show in almost all the tagines (except the sweet ones made with prunes, or quince..)
In this recipe, I mixed Meyer lemons and “bergamote”
You need preserved lemon in most of the Tagines, in some salads. If by any chance you are in 
Morocco and you want to buy it, you ask for “ Hamed Mssayar”, the translation of “Lemon preserved”.
Store-bought preserved lemon, “bergamote” specie
As a general rule, we do not add the preserved lemon in the beginning of the cooking process. We just add it in the very last 5 min of cooking, as decoration and to add flavour at the very last moment.
Preserved lemons are very easy to make and keeps well if you seal the jar properly after each use.
  • About 1 kg of lemon  type bergamote or any medium-size juicy yellow lemon with a good soft and thin skin. Lemons must be organic
  • About 250 g of coarse sea salt
Sterilise the jar you will be using by placing it in boiling water for about 10 min.
Take each lemon and rinse it thouroughly. I advice you leave the whole batch in lukewarm water for about 30 min and then wash it properly any kitchen brush.
Slice the lemon in four or if the lemon is big, cross-cut into each half of it, but without making the cut all the way through.
Place about a tablespoon of sea salt inside the cuts ( I used 1 tablespoon for each half).

Place the lemon in the jar, squashing after each addition. Add in aromatics you want between the layers (such as coriander seeds, peppercorn, and bay leaves).

You can also add sea salt between the layers of lemons inside the jar.
Cut the lemon in half then cross-cut it. Stop before you reach the ends
You shouldn’t leave space on the top of the jar, you need to create some kind of environment where lemon should be pressed during the first days of the preservation process: You start by squashing with your hands from the top so the lemon releases juice. Add lemon until you fill the big holes.
If you think you need some liquid, add the water I mentioned in the list of ingredients, fill the jar completely and seal tightly.

Leave it in a somewhat warm dark space for about five or six weeks. Press it every week to release more juice. You will see that by the end of the 1st week, the lemon skin is already tender.

After 5 weeks, the water will have gooey-jelly-like texture and the lemon will change colour and look cooked. It’s ready to use. You need to wash it to discard all that quantity of salt.
Preserved lemon, ready to use (this one is store-bought, waiting for mine to mature)
In case you plan to use the preserved lemon during the cooking process and not at the end, reduce the quantity of salt originally planned for the recipe you are cooking.

Preserved lemon gets better and darker with age. It caramelizes naturally that you can use it all, including that sticky juice it has developed. So how long can I keep my preserved lemons? Use your senses: as long as it’s properly sealed and it smells/looks good and not rotten, use it!

An aged preserved lemon with a clean sticky juice.

And this is how my aged preserved lemon looks from the side:

And here is what I cooked for today’s lunch, with preserved lemon rinds:

A nice seasonal vegetable tagine (properly slow cooked) using the preserved lemons

Picture uploaded on June 1st, 2012

And that’s how my preserved lemons looked like..

My preserved lemons

Note:Moroccan preserved lemons are used in salads as well as main dishes. Check all past and future blog post with the key word “preserved lemons” via the search box located on the side of the post.

4 thoughts on “Moroccan preserved lemon, a must-have in the Moroccan kitchen

  1. These look fantastic, It's something I've wanted to try for a while because it looks so summery and colourful, and I have some really big jars which would be perfect for this. I have a question – maybe it's a bit stupid though – are there specific benefits over using preserved lemons to using fresh ones? Of course, I can understand why preserved lemons were used, and it wouldn't necessarily stop me from making some, but in these days of \”everything being available all the time\”, I'm just wondering if they have specific flavour differences for example?


  2. Hi Charles, good to see you! Very good question!The preserved lemons have a completely different taste compared to the fresh ones. They're less ascidic and the skin looses its bitterness. Since we need the skin for the cooking, the preserved lemon is the one needed for these reason.Above all this, it has some kind of taste that I can't really explain, especially when it's been naturally and properly preserved (only sea salt and lemon juice)! which is why it's still around.


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