Outside of the culinary world, the lemon gets no respect. It’s used to describe a brand new
automobile that isn’t functioning properly or it’s simply a fruit that’s used to make limoncello
– which has the notoriety of getting Danny DeVito drunk then appearing on “The View”. But
Citrus limon gives us a host of flavor and chemical options in the kitchen.
We’re not sure where the lemon was first planted though it’s believed to have originated in India
or China. From there it spread through Southeast Asia and eventually made its way to the
Middle East and Mediterranean. They are now planted in most parts of the world – both Old
World and New World – and are in seen in most food cultures whether its preserved lemon from
Morocco to the lemonade stand sold by the kids next door.
Anything Other Than Acid?
The main acid in lemon juice is citric acid at about a 5% concentration which is roughly the
concentration as vinegar. That’s why lemon juice is frequently used as the acid component of
simple vinaigrettes in place of vinegar. Since it is a member of the citrus family, lemons are also
a good source of vitamin C or ascorbic acid with ½ cup providing your daily needs… though I
wouldn’t recommend downing a ½ cup every morning simply to fulfill your ascorbic acid needs.
The rind of the lemon (as well as all of the citrus family) is a good source of pectin. That’s why
it’s great at making marmalades. Pectin is a natural soluble fiber that forms a gel when cooked
with water and other than naturally thickening jams and jellies, can also lower your serum
cholesterol. And you thought that marmalade was simply a spread for toast; no, it’s a natural
No, I won’t be describing how lemon juice works as a great chemical peel for the face to remove
fine wrinkle lines. I’m talking about the culinary bonuses of the simple lemon. The primary use
would be the acid component of a vinaigrette or salad dressing. While bottled white vinegar is
cheap and plentiful, the primary acid here is acetic acid. And whenever I get a whiff of acetic
acid, I’m taken right back to chemistry lab as an undergraduate. Whereas the aroma of lemon
juice in vinaigrette takes me back to Longhi’s Frutti di Mare with its perfectly poached seafood
and crisp Romaine hearts.
The acid in lemon juice also has another function. To balance any rich or creamy texture
whether it’s the yin of fatty salmon or creamy raw oysters offset by the yang of refreshing
acidity. This balance allows you (or maybe just me) to scarf down 2 or 3 dozen rich, creamy
oysters on the half shell as long as they’re spritzed with lemon juice and a touch of Tabasco.
Finally, the citric acid in lemon juice also disrupts the chemical reaction of oxidizing enzymes
naturally found in fruit to prevent said fruits from browning after they’re cut, peeled or diced.
These include apples, bananas and avocados though the same principle holds for any fruit that
browns after they’re peeled and cut. Therefore if you want your Waldorf Salad to contain
pristine chunks of chopped apples or your bananas to remain lemon yellow (pun intended) dunk
them in ice water acidulated with the juice of 1 or 2 lemons right after cutting.
Probably the most common use of lemons for their pure lemon flavor would be lemon curd and
lemon bars. I’ll be the first to admit that these aren’t my favorite applications for pure lemon
flavor. Lemon bars just have too much concentrated sweet lemon flavor. Sweet and tart enough
that it seems to strip the enamel right off of my teeth. And when it comes to lemon juice,
butter and egg yolks, I prefer the savory rendition over the sweet also known as hollandaise
One of my favorite sweet applications is lemon pound cake. A lemon sour cream pound cake to
be exact. Several years ago I was on a quest to find the perfect lemon pound cake after sampling
a slice from the Coffee Gallery in Haleiwa on the North Shore of Hawaii. The acidity in the
lemon helped to balance the richness of the buttery pound cake. I finally found lemon pound
cake nirvana in a recipe from the monthly Cooking Light magazine. Though the recipe sheds a
lot of excess saturated fat without sacrificing flavor, I turned the fat volume down further by
substituting macadamia oil for part of the butter. However since the base of the recipe is
Cooking Light’s, I’ll give them their due. Simply go to www.cookinglight.com and search for
“lemon pound cake”. The recipe for “Sour Cream-Lemon Pound Cake” is what you’re looking
for. If you want the Gochiso Gourmet’s version, use just 1 block of butter and 3 tablespoons of
macadamia nut oil.
Lemon zest or the yellow peel of the lemon rind also gives a concentrated lemon flavor without
adding any acidity to your final dish. I find that lemon zest is the perfect substitute in subtle
flavored seafood like crab, scallop and shrimp that don’t have the richness of salmon or squid
and don’t need that bright acidity as a counter balance. One of the best pastas I had was a
simple capellini with Dungeness crab, olive oil, seafood stock and lemon zest tossed together.
Heaven with a glass of Pinot Grigio or unoaked Chardonnay. For your next dinner party, try my
Triple Lemon Salmon Tartare which uses lemon juice, lemon zest and lemon infused olive oil.
Rich fatty salmon and buttery avocado balanced by lemon juice, lemon zest and slightly bitter
endive. If you have leftovers, simply add enough bread crumbs to bind and pan fry for luscious
Triple Lemon Salmon Tartare
½ lb sashimi/sushi grade salmon
1 Haas avocado
12 sprigs fresh chive, finely chopped
Zest from the lemon skin (about 1 tsp)
Juice from lemon (about 4 tsp)
Fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste
1 tsp lemon infused olive oil
1 tsp garlic infused olive oil
3 heads of endive with individual leaves separated
Fresh chive sprigs for garnish
Use kitchen shears or knife and finely mince chives. Zest lemon peel in a small bowl before
cutting in half to juice. Juice lemon halves and set aside.
Split avocado lengthwise, remove seed and dice flesh and add to chive/lemon zest. Immediately
add lemon juice and toss (to prevent browning). Add black pepper and salt (and Tabasco if
desired) and toss again.
Slice raw salmon to roughly ¼ inch cubes then toss with avocado mixture. Toss with lemon and
garlic olive oils. Place a heaping tsp on each endive leaf and garnish with chive sprigs. Serve
A Lemon no More