Lemons are prized for the very qualities that would be despised if found in most other fruits -- a piercing acidity and an utter lack of sweetness. When coupled with an ethereal perfume and a vibrant canary hue, however, that tart disposition becomes beloved by cooks the world over.
Lemons are as essential to everyday cooking as onions and garlic -- and even more versatile, as content keeping company with savory fish, meat, or fowl, as they are sharing the sweet life with innumerable baked goods, marmalades, custards, and sorbets.
A mere squeeze can jolt almost anything out of its muted complacency in ways both expected and surprising. We all know that citrus cuts the unctuousness of fried foods, but it's perhaps not widespread wisdom that a little citrus also invigorates hearty soups and stews, perks up roasted and grilled meats, and creates a delicate vinaigrette. A few tablespoons can transform a dish, while a few drops can quietly heighten the gentle flavors of simply prepared vegetables. Next time a recipe needs the slightest touch of something to turn it from quite good into something sublime, reach for a lemon.
Tools of the Trade
These gadgets can help you get the most out of every lemon.
Made from wood, metal, or plastic, this low-tech alternative to an electric or manual juicer takes up little drawer space and is just the right size to press every last drop of juice from a halved lemon.
This tool offers you two ways to remove the aromatic outermost layer of a lemon without nicking the bitter white pith beneath. When pulled along the surface, the holes at the zester's tip form functional threadlike strips; the curved notch on the side creates elegant curls that are perfect garnishes for lemon-scented dishes and cocktails.
Based on a carpenter's rasp, a Microplane relies on dozens of razor-sharp edges to shave, rather than rip, the zest from the underlying pith. Used with a light touch, it produces fluffier flecks than a knuckle-biting box grater, which practically powders the peel.
There are no guarantees, but lemons that feel heavy for their size and have a smooth, glossy, fine-textured -- not pebbly -- surface tend to have minimal pith and be brimming with juice. The yield varies dramatically depending on size and time of year, but expect to obtain no less than two tablespoons of juice, no more than four.
A squeeze of juice or a sprinkle of zest can enhance any simple fare, regardless of ingredient (meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables) or cooking technique (broiling, roasting, grilling, or sauteing).
Meyer Lemons available seasonally from supermarkets or from Melissa's Produce, 800-588-0151