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Cooking with Lemons

Prized for their sweet, acidic juice and flavorful zest, lemons have a wide range of uses in the kitchen. They're essential for rounding out the flavors of many sauces and are the primary flavoring in a host of desserts. A bit of fresh lemon juice is often all that is needed to enliven a dull-tasting dish, especially chicken and seafood.

When choosing lemon, look for lemons with smooth, brightly colored rinds and no tinges of green. The best are firm, plump, and heavy for their size. Lemon can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 weeks. Both grated lemon zest and fresh-squeezed juice can also be frozen. Pour the juice into ice cube trays and freeze. When they are solid, transfer the cubes to zipper-lock freezer bags and freeze for up to 6 months. Freeze grated zest in freezer bags for up to 6 months.

To remove the zest from lemon, be sure to remove it before squeezing the juice, or it will be a nearly impossible task. Also, to avoid a bitter taste, make sure that you remove only the outer yellow layer, or zest, and not the inner white pith. Special zesting tools do the job best. Or you can rub a lemon back and forth over the small, nubby side of a grater to make zest. Once you have removed the zest from a lemon, the remaining whole fruit can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. One medium lemon yields 2 to 3 teaspoons of zest.

Juice from the lemon can be squeezed by using an inexpensive hand-held citrus reamer. Just cut the lemon in half and firmly twist the reamer into each half. If you don't have a reamer, use a fork, twisting the tines into each lemon half. An average medium lemon yields about 2 to 4 tablespoons of lemon juice.

To squeeze maximum juice from a lemon, bring the lemons to room temperature and roll under your palm to soften the fruit and get the juices flowing. Or, pierce 1 lemon with a form and microwave it on medium power for 10 to 20 seconds.

To catch the seeds when juicing a lemon, just place a mesh sieve over the bowl or dish into which you are squeezing the juice. Use a rubber spatula to press out any extra juice that has settled in the strainer. Or, squeeze the lemon over the tines of a fork, which will catch any seeds. You can also wrap a piece of cheesecloth over each lemon half before juicing. If any seeds fall into the juice, just remove them with a fork.

If you need to extract just a few drops of juice from a lemon, pierce the lemon with a toothpick or the tip of a paring knife. Squeeze out some juice through the hole. Refrigerate the leftover lemon in a zipper-lock plastic bag and use within a few days.

Lemon juice can be used to keep low-acidity foods from darkening. Foods such as bananas, peaches, and avocados darken quickly when exposed to air. To delay this oxidation, rub any cut surfaces with lemon juice. However, if you need to cut the acidity of lemon juice, just add a pinch of salt or baking soda.

Lemon is also effective in soothing a sore throat or a congested head. Simply put 1 or 2 thin slices of lemon in a teacup or mug. If desired, add 1 slice fresh ginger, pricked all over to release the juice. Add boiling water to fill. Sweeten to taste and sip like tea.

Cooking Guide and Tips **

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