Key Ingredient

Key Ingredient: Preserved Lemons

By: Brittany Furbee

Elevate apple compote with the bright and complex flavors of preserved lemons.

Chelsea Hott of Alma Bea poses
Image courtesy of Mary Ellen Diaz

The art of preserving lemons is a waiting game, as the magic happens over time. In Shepherdstown, West Virginia, Chelsea Hott of Alma Bea makes her own by immersing whole lemons in a mixture of salt and lemon juice and allowing them to ferment for several weeks. The result is a soft, intensely flavored lemon with a rich, salty tang. Hott turns to this pantry staple at the restaurant for everything from roasted frog legs to Carolina rice pilaf.

“Preserved lemons are unique,” says Hott. “You have to rinse them off entirely before you can use them as an ingredient, and waiting for a month is probably the hardest part, but it is worth it. The flavor is mellowed compared to a fresh lemon; however, the brightness is still there, and the texture softens without turning to a mushy mess.”

This preservation method not only extends the shelf life of lemons but also amplifies their taste, making them a wonderful addition to a variety of recipes, like Alma Bea’s apple compote, which they pair with several dishes including french toast, buttermilk panna cotta, and slow-roasted heirloom grits. Hott’s simple recipe combines the natural sweetness of apples with warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and the addition of preserved lemon elevates the comforting treat with a burst of brightness and complexity.

Chelsea Hott's apple compote with preserved lemons

Apple Compote with Preserved Lemons heading-plus-icon


Makes 1 quart

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1½ teaspoons oil
  • 5 Granny Smith apples, diced
  • 1½ tablespoons thyme leaves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon preserved lemon rind, rinsed and minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons hot honey
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • Pinch of pepper
  1. In a large sauté pan, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add apples, thyme, preserved lemon, sugar, and honey. Sauté apples, flipping occasionally until they become soft.
  2. Add brandy and cook 1 more minute. Add pepper as needed. Serve warm or cold.
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