Lemons are versatile and wildly useful. A valuable addition to dishes both savory and sweet, and in forms both fresh and preserved, they are only as capable as the cook who uses them.
Want to master the basics? Here’s a lemon primer every home cook can reference.
How to juice a lemon
1. Bring the lemon to room temperature by putting it in the microwave or leaving it on the counter.
2. Roll the lemon back and forth under the palm of your hand.
3. Cut the lemon in half lengthwise. Most people cut it across its equator, but cutting lengthwise yields more juice.
4. Squeeze the lemon using a sieve, your other hand or a cheesecloth to capture any seeds.
How to zest a lemon
When harvested properly, the zest of a lemon is a wonderfully potent and aromatic addition to many dishes. The zest is where the fruit stores its oil, which makes it less acidic choice than lemon juice.
There are an abundance of zesting gadgets on the market, and even chefs can’t agree on the best way to zest a lemon, so we’ll review a few options. No matter which method you choose, there are three things you must remember:
1. Before zesting, it’s important to gently scrub the rind under cold water with a soft brush and let it thoroughly dry.
2. Avoid the lemon’s white pith, which has an inclination to cling to the rind, as much as possible. Perfecting zesting is a technique that takes time and practice, but the bitter white pith ruins the zest entirely.
3. Don’t throw out a lemon when you’re done zesting. Place it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, or juice it on the spot and freeze or refrigerate the juice for later use.
14 seriously helpful do’s and don’ts for cooking with lemons
Zesting: the peeler option — Place the sharp part of the peeler’s harp on the rind at one end of the lemon. Push and drag the peeler down the length of the lemon, being careful to avoid the white pith just under the rind.
Repeat this process until the entire peel is removed and only the pith remains. Chop the lemon peel to the desired size or freeze the peelings for later use.
Zesting: the rasp option — Using a microplane, rasp or even the smallest “setting” on your old-fashioned grater is an easy way to zest a lemon quickly, but it renders a very finely grated lemon zest, which isn’t ideal for all applications.
Move the lemon back and forth over the grates of the microplane, grater or rasp. Rotate the tool as you go, avoiding any of the lemon’s pith. Be mindful not to scrape your fingers.
Zesting: the knife option — Cut off one end of the lemon. Place the lemon cut end down on a cutting board, holding it securely with one hand.
Working from top to bottom, carefully cut into the fruit at an angle and slice down to remove the peel while avoiding the pith.
Carefully scrape any white pith off the inside of the peels with your knife. Chop the lemon peel to the desired size, or freeze for later use.
Zesting: the gadget option — Place the zester’s sharp holes at one end of the lemon and press down, dragging the zester down the length of the lemon. This will render long, thin curls of zest. Continue until the entire lemon peel is removed.
How to dry lemon wheels
1. Preheat oven to its lowest possible temperature.
2. Slice lemons into 1/4-inch wheels.
3. Place slices on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
4. Bake in the oven for 4 to 5 hours.
5. Rotate sheets or turn the lemon wheels every hour or so for even drying.
6. Store in airtight container until ready to use.
How to roast lemon wheels
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Slice lemons into 1/4-inch wheels.
3. Place the slices on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
4. Roast until sugars begin to caramelize (a little burning is okay, it adds flavor).
5. Rotate sheets or turn the lemon wheels every 20 minutes or so to allow for even cooking.
6. Use in salads, as a garnish on desserts or as an addition to simply cooked chicken or fish.
How to candy lemon slices or peel
1. Wash and dry lemons.
2. Slice lemons into 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch slices, or use a vegetable peeler to zest the lemon, cutting peels into the desired size.
3. In a deep and wide pot, such as a Dutch oven, make a simple syrup using equal parts water and sugar.
4. Whisk over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil.
5. Add lemon slices or peel, keeping them as spread out in the pan as possible.
6. Simmer over low heat until translucent, about an hour.
7. Remove from the syrup onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet to cool.
8. Heat oven to its lowest setting.
9. Place the cookie sheet inside and bake for 1 to 2 hours, rotating sheets every 45 minutes or so until lemons dry out.