Citrus Shrine: Vivian Howard's recipe for preserved citrus makes weeknight meals shine
Hands-on time: 45 minutes
Total time: 4 weeks (curing time)
Makes a half-gallon of preserved citrus.
Vivian Howard, chef-owner of Chef & the Farmer, calls for run-of-the-mill citrus in this recipe, but you can use anything from Meyer lemons to grapefruit. As long as it’s citrus and in good condition, she says, you can preserve it.
Howard also says there's more than one way to preserve citrus in salt, including slicing the fruit or adding spices or oil. This method is just a suggestion.
As you use your preserved citrus, you can continue to add leftover lemon, lime or orange slices to the brine to marinate. Or, once the preserved citrus is ready, you can transfer to another container. Store that container in the fridge and use the leftover brine to start a new batch of citrus in a freshly sterilized jar.
Use the finished preserved lemons in this pilaf recipe or this curried collard recipe
Citrus Shrine recipe from “This Will Make It Taste Good: A New Path to Simple Cooking,” by Vivian Howard (Voracious, 2020):
Roughly 2/3 cup kosher salt, plus more as necessary
Juice of roughly 2 lemons (don’t even think about using that stuff in a bottle)
Begin by sterilizing the jar or jars you want to use. I like to use a half-gallon mason jar for this because you can’t really fit three types of citrus into quart jars in a worthwhile way, but if wide-mouth quart jars are all you have, then go for it. I find the easiest way to sterilize a jar is to run it through your dishwasher, but you could also steam it for about 10 minutes.
Wash your citrus and peel off any stickers. Slice an X from the top down to within ½ inch of the bottom. The idea is to almost cut the citrus into quarters but to leave it attached at its stem end.
Rub the inside of the exposed flesh liberally with salt, then reshape the fruit. Put about ¼ cup salt in the bottom of your jar, if using a half gallon. If using quart jars, divide that salt between the two. Then go about the business of cramming your citrus into your jar. When I say cram, I mean cram. Imagine your kitchen is the circus. This jar is the clown car. The lemons, limes and oranges are the clowns, and you are the ringmaster. Now cram the clowns in.
Put a layer of lemons in and sprinkle about 2 to 3 tablespoons salt on top of that layer. Use the back of a clean wooden spoon to bruise them inside the jar, which will also work to squeeze out some of their juice.
Follow with a layer of oranges. If your oranges are large, you may have to cut them in half; it’s okay if a layer ends up being just one orange. Sprinkle that layer with salt and bruise it up.
Now for the limes. Do the same as the lemons and oranges, and continue to alternate citrus until your clown car is full. When I say “full” I mean there may be a clown head or rear-end that peeks up into the neck of the jar. That’s okay. As long as you can screw the lid on securely and it doesn’t buckle, your clowns should be fine.
Finish with a layer of salt and pour in the lemon juice. If you’ve properly crammed and bruised your citrus, it may take a minute or two for the juice to seep down and through the tiny avenues that exist between your lemons, limes and oranges, but be patient because the salty lemon juice is what will do the pickling here and we need it to be everywhere. When you’re done, the lemon juice should cover everything, but if a small piece of citrus rind pokes through that’s okay, everything will soften and shrink over the next few days and it will end up submerged.
Leave the sealed jar in a cool, visible spot out of the sun in your kitchen for 4 weeks. From time to time, turn the jar over and let it sit on its lid for a day or so.
When the citrus is ready it will have deepened in color just a bit and the skin should feel supple and soft. If that’s not the case, give it more time. Once the citrus meets this criteria, it’s ready to use.
Store the finished shrine in the fridge or keep it on your counter. If you see weird, white lacy stuff around the citrus, that’s fine, just rinse it off before using it. Your Citrus Shrine will keep for a year at this point.
How to use it
Once the citrus is preserved, there are two parts you can use (the rind and pulp); you will always remove (the salty brine). The rind is the most colorful, soft, sexy part. It’s employed in every recipe that calls for preserved citrus. It can be used “raw,” but it blooms and comes to life when it meets heat. Separated from the pith, it’s pretty versatile and should be something you consider in just about everything you cook that calls for citrus.
The pulp, or the place where the juice once lived, is really never used “raw” but is often roughly chopped and thrown into stews, syrups or sautéed to add a singular salty, sunny funk only it can provide. When you get ready to make something that calls on citrus juice as a cooking liquid, strap on your thinking cap, chop up some preserved pulp, reduce the amount of salt the recipe calls for by a bit and throw in preserved pulp. Don’t forego the juice the recipe suggests. Instead, just revel in the fact that the preserved pulp will add a layer of citrus personality to the finished dish you never thought possible.
Always, always, always rinse the entire orange, lemon or lime inside and out before you do anything else with it. It’s slimy and salty and will appreciate the bath before it meets your knife.
Cut through the bottom that’s holding it together. This will separate the citrus into four quarters. Some of my recipes will call for a quarter, two quarters or three-quarters of preserved citrus. This is sometimes an easier measurement because a tablespoon of thinly sliced, unwieldy rind is kind of a hard thing to measure.
Cut the pulp away, doing your best to leave the white pith with the rind at this point. The science that happened during preservation should make this easier than it would have been with fresh citrus. If the recipe calls for preserved pulp, this section is what it’s talking about. Just remove the seeds and roughly chop what’s left.
To mine the rind, lay a quarter of citrus whose pulp has been removed on the cutting board white pith facing up. Use a sharp knife (but not a serrated one) to cut as much of the pith away as possible. The pith is bitter and adding it to stuff will make you wonder why you trust my taste. Once you’ve cut away as much as you think possible, cut a little bit more. What you’re left with should be shiny, soft, smooth and supple. This is the stuff of transformation and you made it.
If you separate more rind or pulp than you need for a recipe, put what you don’t use in a container or back in the brine and slide that in the fridge until you need it. Just rinse all parts again before you use them.