Lemons are a staple ingredient in every well-stocked kitchen second only to good quality salt and pepper. According to Alice Waters, celebrated chef, author and owner of Chez Panisse Foundation, “cooking without lemons would be like cooking without garlic and onion—unthinkable!”
Lemons, especially fresh lemons, have a way of adding brightness and a refreshing flavor to many dishes. Unlike other fresh citrus, lemons are less sweet and more acidic with a sour note that is pleasing to the palate.
The magic to any well-balanced dish is exactly that, balance of salt, sweet, fat and sour or acid. Lemons are the mouthwatering pop of sour that works in sweet and savory dishes alike.
Why lemons rock:
- Balances salad dressings & marinades
- Keeps avocado from turning brown
- Accentuates the natural sweetness in fruits such as strawberries, peaches & pears
- Serves as a simple fix for any vegetable or fish dish
Plus, there is nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than a tall glass of lemonade made with fresh lemon juice.
Although bottled lemon juice can work in a pinch, there is no comparison to a fresh lemon. When you cut and squeeze a bit of fresh lemon into a dish, you get a two for one bonus. Besides the delightful fresh juice, the fragrant essential oils in the peel are also released.
What to consider when searching for the perfect lemon
- Plump & heavy for its size
- Smooth, thin skin without bruising or soft spots
- Evenly colored (bright yellow or orangey yellow for Meyer lemons), without green tinge
Types of lemons
Almost all lemons produced worldwide are grown in California and Florida. In 2017, the USDA estimated the number of lemons produced in those two States to be 96 percent. Lemons are particularly frost-sensitive citrus and grow well in areas where there are even temperatures and plenty of sunshine throughout the year.
Eureka & Lisbon: These are the most commonly available varieties in the market. These two varieties look very similar; bright yellow in color and oblong in shape with an aromatic skin. Lemons are available year-round but are at their best from late winter through the early summer months.
Meyer lemons: These fruits are smaller and more rounded in shape and have a golden-yellow to somewhat orangey tinged skin. Thought to be a hybrid of lemons and mandarin oranges, their skin is more delicate, and they do not store as well as regular varieties of lemons. If you have never tried a Meyer Lemon, once you do you’ll fall in love with them. They’re less acidic and sweeter in flavor with floral nuances and very juicy. Look for these in your local markets from October through April.
The most conventionally raised lemons are picked when they are green. After they are sorted and treated with fungicides they are placed in cold storage until they are fully matured.
If you are lucky enough to live in an area where lemons are grown, visit your farmers market for locally grown lemons.
Prepping & storage
The whole lemon, besides the white bitter pith and the hard lemon seeds, (which are not toxic but annoying) can be used in many ways in the kitchen. Whole lemons will keep at room temperature for about a week. Lemons can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Make the most out of this beloved kitchen staple in all its glory with the following ideas:
The Rind: The lemon skin, peel or rind, as it’s called, is delicious. The next time you get ready to juice a fresh lemon, take a few minutes to preserve the rind for later use. Wash and dry the outside of the fruit first before starting.
- Stuff a few rind pieces inside the cavity of a whole chicken with fresh herbs before baking
- Add a twist or two of fresh peel to espresso, a cool glass of water, in a pitcher with your favorite sun tea or a cocktail
- Add a few pieces to a jar of sugar to impart a lovely lemon flavor
- Long twists of lemon peel are also perfect for making candied or crystalized lemon to nibble on or to garnish desserts
Zest: Use a zester or grater to remove smaller pieces of lemon peel. Use immediately or store in freezer and thaw before use.
- Mix lemon zest into salad dressings or add to lemon pudding
- Make a simple herbal seasoning blend by mixing equal amounts ground pepper, salt and lemon zest with your favorite herbs and spread onto sheet pan. Dry completely in oven at 200 degrees F. Store in empty sealed spice jar.
- Blend lemon zest with soft butter and tarragon, chives or fresh dill and serve on top of grilled fish, steamed vegetables or pan-seared chicken.
Lemon juice: Freshly squeezed lemon has so many uses. To get the most juice from your lemons, let them come to room temperature or sit them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. Roll lemon on a clean counter using the pressure of your hands to break down the cell walls inside of the lemon. Cut lemon in half and squeeze. (If squeezing a lot of lemons, use a citrus juicer.)
Leftover juice can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days or frozen for several months. Pour lemon juice into ice cubes trays, freeze, remove from trays and store in freezer storage containers.
Future (and current) use: Make the most iconic recipe for hot summer days… lemonade!
Meyer Lemonade Slushy
In high-speed blender, combine whole Meyer lemons with ice cubes, filtered water, the sweetener of your choice (we like agave!) and a few sprigs of mint (optional). Blend until icy consistency, pour into a tall glass and enjoy!