I am such a sucker for citrus. If I didn’t hate temperatures over 73 degrees I’d move someplace where I could have my own huge lemon tree in the backyard and spend all day figuring out ways to use bushels of lemons.
As it is, I have to buy my citrus, so I try to get as much use as possible from every part of it. Recently I impulse-bought about 5 pounds of Meyer lemons and I couldn’t let the peels go to waste.
Here’s some of the ways I used my lemon peels. Similar techniques work well for orange and lime peels as well.
Lemon Peel Management 101
Unless you’re a fan of waxy fungicide residue in your food, I recommend going organic with citrus where you’ll be specifically eating the peel. Give your fruit a good wash before proceeding.
You only want the outer, brightly colored zest of the lemons, not the thicker white pith underneath. I think everyone pretty much knows this, but the zest is where all the concentrated lemon oil is. The pith is pretty much just bitter.
Get the zest off your citrus before you slice or juice your fruit. It is a terrible kind of torture to attempt to zest half an already-juiced lemon. Trust me, I know.
A good peeler should leave most of the pith behind. If a teeny bit of pith comes along for the ride, as shown in the photo above, it’s not a big deal. Don’t do anything silly like scrape every microscopic fleck of pith of the zest with a grapefruit spoon. You don’t have time for that crap. It’ll be fine.
Once you’ve got your strips of zest, you’re ready to go.
1. Basic Dried Lemon Peel
How To Make Dried Lemon Peel
Lay your strips of zest out on a cooling rack. Try not to let them touch; you want good airflow. Set the zest someplace out of the way for a few days, until the zest is dry and brittle.
I live in a very winter-humid climate and have never had a problem drying citrus like this, so I think most people will be successful just leaving their zest at room temperature to dry, but if you are someplace warm and humid and are concerned the zest might mold, you can dry these in a food dehydrator (this is the one I have) at the lowest temperature setting for a few hours.
Once dry, you can leave the strips whole or, if you prefer, pulverize them in a spice grinder or food processor. The lemon strips or powder will keep at room temperature for a very long time, but the lemon scent and flavor will fade over time.
How To Use Dried Lemon Peel
You know lemon-pepper? Well, with this you are half-way there. Dried lemon peel adds great flavor to fish, chicken, spice blends and sauces, and is good in sweet things like cookies. Try mashing some dried, powdered lemon peel with candied ginger, and dissolving the mix in hot water for a soothing tea in the winter.
2. Lemon and Herb Olive Oil
How To Make Lemon and Herb Olive Oil
Add the following to a 12 oz or pint-size mason jar:
- the zest of two lemons
- a generous bunch of fresh thyme
- a teaspoon of chili flakes
- a teaspoon of granulated garlic
- several whole black peppercorns
Add enough good quality olive oil – about a cup – to fill the jar. Lid tightly, give the jar a shake and store in the fridge for up to 3 days, or freeze for longer-term storage. Olive oil in the fridge or freezer get’s thick and clumpy. That’s a normal property of cold olive oil; don’t worry about it. The oil will thin out again as soon as it’s brought to room temperature.
How To Use Lemon and Herb Olive Oil
Any place you’d use olive oil but you want a bit more punch, you can use this lemon and herb olive oil. Use in salad dressings, as a dip for baguette, as a sauce for pasta, or to marinate goat cheese or mozzarella, drizzle over grilled steak or fish, saute prawns in a bit of it, or toss vegetables in this oil after blanching.
3. Citrus and Spice Seasoning Salt
How To Make Citrus Spice Seasoning Salt
- the zest of a few lemons
- a tablespoon of fennel seed
- several black peppercorns
After the citrus and spices are finely chopped, add in about a cup of kosher salt and continue to blend until the salt and spices are well mixed and the salt is powdery.
Lid tightly and store at room temperature – the salt will be best after several weeks of aging.
How To Use Citrus Spice Seasoning Salt
This kind of flavor-infused salt is a great way to season up pork chops, chicken breasts, seafood or vegetables.
4. Meyer Lemon Sugar
How To Make Meyer Lemon Sugar
After the lemon is finely chopped, add in about a cup of organic sugar and continue to blend until the sugar and lemon zest are well combined.
Lid tightly and store at room temperature – the sugar will be best after several weeks of aging.
How To Use Meyer Lemon Sugar
If you like to sweeten your tea, try lemon sugar for a nice change. Use this sugar in baked goods, as a topping for simple butter cookies or caramelize atop a lemon creme brulee. Also try it in savory application where you are adding just a touch of sweetness for balance. For example, if you are going to add a pinch of sugar to balance a salad dressing, try using lemon sugar instead for a bit more depth.
5. Lemon and Rosemary Compound Butter
How To Make Lemon and Rosemary Compound Butter
- the zest of two lemons
- the leaves from one 5-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
After the citrus and spices are finely chopped, add in 4 oz. (a stick) of butter and blend until the lemon, rosemary and butter are fully combined and the butter is slightly whipped. If desired, season to taste with a bit of sea salt or Kosher salt.
To store the compound butter, smooth the butter into a log shape on a sheet of parchment paper. Wrap the parchment paper around the butter, and press against the parchment paper to compress the butter into a firm log. Roll the parchment-covered butter into a tube, then wrap the parchment tightly with plastic wrap and store the compound butter in the freezer, where it will keep for 6 months.
How To Use Lemon and Rosemary Compound Butter
Perfect for melting over grilled chicken, pork or seafood, or adding to pasta or potatoes for a light sauce. Compound butter is easy to use: just slice a medallion off the frozen tube of compound butter when you need it. Once sliced the butter will thaw quickly to coat hot foods.
6. Citrus Soy Vinegar Dipping Sauce
How To Make Citrus Soy Vinegar Dipping Sauce
This sauce is similar to Japanese ponzu sauce – a light combination of citrus, vinegar and soy sauce. To make it, add the following to a pint-sized mason jar:
- the zest of several lemons
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons organic sugar
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
Tightly lid the jar, give everything a good shake to combine and store the sauce in the fridge, where it will last for several months.
How To Use Citrus Soy Vinegar Dipping Sauce
This is an excellent dipping sauce or dressing. Use it as-is for chicken, scallop, mushroom or eggplant skewers, or potstickers or spring rolls. Adjust the flavoring by adding chili sauce or sesame oil if desired. Turn it into an Asian-styled dressing for vegetables, noodle bowls or stir fries by mixing in a bit of sesame oil, miso paste or peanut butter and honey.
7. Easy Lemon Extract
How To Make Lemon Extract
As we learned when we made Better Homemade Vanilla Extract, the only real trick to potent baking extracts like this is to use a lot of your flavoring component, and to give it time.
Loosely fill a 12 oz. or pint-size mason jar with strips of lemon zest. Fill the jar with good quality (but nothing too crazy expensive) vodka, seal very tightly, and you’re done!
Give the lemon extract at least a month or two to age in a dark, cool-ish spot. The longer you let it sit, the more potent it will become.
How To Use Lemon Extract
Lemon extract (along with vanilla and almond) is one of the Big Three in my arsenal of baking extracts. Sub lemon extract for vanilla in any baked good where a citrus brightness is appropriate. Think: scones, poundcake, lemon blueberry muffins, etc.
Hop from the baking cupboard to the liquor cabinet and this lemon extract will take on another name: lemon vodka. Used judiciously (because it will be far stronger in flavor than a typical citrus vodka infusion), this extract can be used in mixology as well.