Dining to Cook: Meyer Lemons

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Jessica Hui is an everywoman epicurean and avid diner. In our new series, Dining to Cook, she shares tips, tricks and techniques she’s picked up while dining out. First up, State Bird Provisions. Here’s Jessica. 

One of my favorite restaurants to go to in San Francisco is State Bird Provisions. I’ve probably eaten there (almost) as many times as I’ve eaten at Nopa. It’s always a fun dining experience because the dishes are constantly reinterpreted based on the seasons and what’s currently in their pantry. The chefs are always experimenting and always have projects going on, like fermenting vegetables or curing meats. There’s always a special ingredient used in every dish.

While an average home cook doesn’t have curing chambers to go full-on guanciale mode, there are simple but powerful pantry additions we can make at home. One of my favorite little dishes at State Bird that really encompasses the idea of adding that special ingredient to bring depth and umami to a dish is the guinea hen dumpling with aromatic broth – a meaty, tender pan-seared dumpling floating in a complex broth.

One of the key ingredients that makes the dish super special is preserved lemons. It’s chopped into the filling as well as added to the broth. Preserved lemons add a nice bright element to dishes, and makes a great pantry staple.

Making preserved lemons is incredibly easy. Any fresh organic lemon will do. Right now, at the height of citrus season, I like to use Meyer lemons. I found these beautiful juicy Meyer lemons at the K&J Orchards stand at the CUESA Ferry Building Farmers Market.

First, wash and dry them thoroughly. Then, you make little lemon snowballs – you take each lemon, trim off the ends, and cut two slits down the center, leaving the bottom in tact. Fill the middles with lots of kosher salt, more than you’d ever think was needed.

Drop them into a clean jar and compress them until the juices flow and cover the lemons. Tightly seal, and leave in a dark, cool space (but not the refrigerator). Every few days or so you can rotate or turn the jar upside down to disperse the salt.

The jar must sit for 1-2 months allowing the lemons to preserve. Once it’s gotten to a place you like (to taste), move it to the fridge for storage.

I love using preserved lemons to spruce up a roast chicken, broths, sautéed greens, and even tea. Once you nail this, it’s fun experimenting with different additions like pink peppercorns, cardamom, bay leaves, or any other favorite aromatic.