After salt and pepper, lemon may be the most commonly used flavoring ingredient in the culinary arts.
Used in everything from baking to sauce making to meat and vegetable cookery, lemons bring their own tangy flavor and bright aroma, while actually enhancing a dish's other flavors. Lemon is said to be a "flavor catalyst," meaning that it interacts with the taste buds so that the flavors that follow are more pronounced.
Lemon Varieties: The most common lemon variety is the Eureka lemon. It's slightly smaller, smoother cousin, called the Lisbon, is more likely to be available in the winter. Flavorwise, there's not much difference between the two.
Another variety, called the Meyer lemon, is quite small and significantly sweeter than the ordinary lemon varieties. In addition to being smaller, the Meyer lemon is also more fragile, making it unsuitable for large-scale commercial distribution. They tend to be found at farmers' markets — and in people's yards.
Storing Lemons: Lemons will keep for several days at room temperature, and interestingly, a room temperature lemon will yield more juice than one that is cold. However, lemons left at room temperature for too long are susceptible to mold. The best way to store lemons is in the refrigerator, either in one of the crisper drawers or in a plastic bag.
While the fruits themselves do not do well when frozen, the lemon peel can be removed and frozen, then used later in recipes that call for lemon zest.
Squeezing Lemons: The average lemon contains three tablespoons of juice. To get the maximum amount of juice, roll a room-temperature lemon on the counter before cutting it open. Applying light pressure with your hand as you roll it. This bursts the tiny juice-filled cells in the lemon's flesh, allowing more of the juice to be extracted.
Zest is the shiny, yellow outermost layer of the peel, which contains powerful flavor compounds. The white part of the peel just beneath the zest is quite bitter and shouldn't be used. Here's a video on zesting and juicing lemons.
Cooking with Lemons: Lemons are highly acidic, and this acid will react with different foods in different ways.
For example, the acid will denature the proteins in fish and seafood, causing the fish to become firm and opaque, almost as if it had been cooked.
Lemon juice is commonly used in meat marinades in the mistaken belief that the acid helps tenderize tougher cuts of meat. Marinating does not tenderize meat, but a marinade that is too acidic (or marinating for too long), can cause the surface of the meat to take on a mealy texture.
The acid in lemon juice can also curdle milk, and while it can cause green vegetables to turn a drab olive color, it will help vegetables such as potatoes and turnips maintain their white color.
Recipes Featuring Lemons:
- Asparagus with Lemon & Thyme
- Sautéed Green Beans with Shallots & Lemon
- Baked Cod with Beurre Blanc Sauce
- Maître d'Hôtel Butter - Compound Butter Recipe