Add a little sunshine
This article was originally published in January 2014
It’s easy to take lemons for granted, but there are simple ways to showcase their fresh acidity. They’re especially welcome in winter, to brighten the flavor of earthy dishes.
Choose lemons that feel heavy for their size; they’ll have more juice. On average, a medium lemon should have about 3 tablespoons of juice. To maximize juice extraction, have the lemons at room temperature (you can also microwave them for a few seconds), and roll them firmly between your hand and the countertop a few times. Then, slice the pointed ends off the fruit, so the pulpy interior is just barely exposed; removing these tough ends lets your juicer focus its efforts on the pulp, rather than the rind.
Now that you’ve got plenty of juice, see what happens when you add it to savory dishes. Roast a platter of your favorite vegetable, whether that’s broccoli, cauliflower or potatoes. Just before serving, give them a generous squirt of lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt. The combination will wake up your palate and bring out delicious new flavors. Lemon juice also is the perfect counterpart to the earthiness of lentil soup or rich lamb; Italians love to serve a lemon wedge alongside a steak.
When it comes to zesting, organic lemons are the way to go, to avoid the pesticides and fungicides that can accumulate on the skin of conventionally grown fruit. Give them a quick scrub before zesting to bring the oils to the surface. One medium lemon should provide about 1 tablespoon finely grated zest. Broad strips are best for tea cups or cocktail glasses, while finely grated zest basically dissolves when cooked. A Microplane grater is the go-to zesting tool, but cheese graters or paring knives also can get the job done. Whichever you use, grate only the outer, yellow layer of skin, leaving the bitter white pith layer behind.
Zest freezes nicely, and it’s a great way to reduce food waste and save money. If you just want the juice for a recipe, take a moment to run a fine grater over its rind before juicing. Freeze it all in a bag (you can even combine it with the zest from other citrus), or wrap up individual teaspoon-sized portions. Then when you want only the zest for cookies, you won’t need to buy a whole new lemon.
Know your lemon
There are two similar lemon varieties you’ll find labeled “organic” at PCC. Eurekas have knobbly skin and a short, sturdy neck; they’re available year-round. Lisbons taper to a point and have smooth skin; you’ll find them more commonly in winter months.
Make mine meyer
Meyer lemons are a centuries-old cross between a lemon and a tangerine. Our organic Meyers are grown on two small farms; one in Texas and one in California. Their sweet flavor is beloved by bakers, but a floral aftertaste means that not everyone cares for them.
Squeezed for time
We carry organic, pasteurized Santa Cruz lemon juice in 16-ounce bottles. With fresh lemon flavor, it works equally well in warm drinks or savory recipes. When baking, it’s a fine substitute for fresh juice, but not for fresh zest.