I have a confession. For years I would toss the beautiful bright flavor of lemons into the garbage. This sad situation is the result of cutting a lemon in half, quickly juicing it for some immediate need then tossing what’s left. Or, when facing a need for lemon zest, taking off what I need in the moment and giving these rest a toss. Ouch!
I’ve reformed, having learned a few tricks for using up all of the useful parts of a lemon (or other citrus) and preserving what I don’t need now to have it just as “fresh” and beautiful when I will need it later.
My new routine is to always zest a lemon first, even if all I need at the time is juice or a twist of peel. The easiest way is to place the citrus over a piece of parchment paper, plate or bowl then run all over it with using a fine zester, scrape off only the yellow part of the peel, not the white pith beneath.
Once done, I take what I need, if any, then scoop all of the fluffy zest into an airtight container (or bag) I keep in the freezer, using a bench scraper to make sure I get every precious, flavorful bit. The zest is so fine, defrosting for use is never necessary. I just reach into my container of lemon zest and take what I need when I need it. It’s handy and just as fresh as if I’d started with a new lemon.
Add a pinch of lemon zest to just about anything to brighten it up—salad dressing, cookie dough, meringue ice cream her butter, meat marinade—even pancake batter!
There are times when you need a larger piece of citrus peel and zest won’t do—like for a garnish or to infuse in marinades, syrups or cocktails. Or to make jam and marmalade.
Simply wash well and then peel the lemon (orange or other citrus) separating the entire rind from the fruit. Store the rinds, with all of the pulp removed, in a plastic bag in the freezer. Now it’s easy to reach in to take just what you need, as you need it. You won’t believe how fresh and bright the flavors will have been preserved.
Before you toss a lemon that’s been zested or otherwise partially used, take a few seconds to juice it. With the zest removed, the lemon will be a bit more delicate to handle, but still easily juiced. Even if we’re talking about only a tablespoon of juice, freeze it for later.
I keep at least one of these ice cube trays in my freezer. I pour any amount of fresh juice into an empty cube compartment—or add it to a compartment that’s only partially full. Once a compartment is full to the top and frozen hard, I pop it out and store these juice cubes in a freezer bag. So handy! I can always count on having “fresh” lemon juice on hand.
Strips of citrus rind (minus the white pith) can be dried out and roasted in an oven set on 200 F then ground with a mortar and pestle, in a spice grinder or food processor to create roasted citrus powder—the perfect addition to any spice rub and countless other recipes that call for lemon zest.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and fill the sheet with a single layer of rinds you’ve peeled off using a soft fruit peeler like this tomato peeler because it easily removes only the zest part in wide-ish strips and none of the pith. Bake in a low oven for about 4 hours, or until the rinds are dry and curled. Allow to cool and then grind to a powder. As long as the powdered zest is completely dry, it should last in the pantry for about a year. Or store it in the refrigerator to prolong its shelf life even further.
Use powdered zest exactly as you would fresh zest (1 teaspoon of fresh zest = 1 teaspoon of powdered zest). While it’s just as strong as its fresh counterpart, powdered roasted zest has a more mellow robust flavor, not quite as acidic.
Homemade candied lemon peel is a treat—one that is so decadent and classy, it makes for lovely gift not only at Christmas, but any time of year. You can sprinkle candied peel on top of baked goods, or dip the delicate strips in chocolate.
Without a doubt the easiest and most efficient way to make candied citrus peel is in a pressure cooker—specifically, your Instant Pot. You can find the complete recipe with photos and detailed instructions HERE.
You can use these methods with any citrus: lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, Meyer lemons, even smaller citrus like key limes and kumquat, too.