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Zhuang Preserved Lemons

Chinese

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27 replies to this topic

#1 liuzhou

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Posted 15 August 2008 - 10:51 PM

A few days ago, I was given a lovely gift. A big jar of preserved lemons.

I know Moroccan preserved lemons, but had never met Chinese ones. In fact, apart from in the south, in many parts of China it isn't that easy to find lemons, at all.

These are apparently a speciality of the southern Zhuang minority of Wuming County near Nanning. The Zhuang people are the largest ethnic minority in China and most live in Guangxi. These preserved lemons feature in their diet and are usually eaten with congee (rice porridge). Lemon Duck is a local speciality and they are also served with fish. They can be served as a relish, too. They are related to the Vietnamese Chanh muối.

I'm told that these particular lemons have been soaking in salt and lemon juice for eleven years!

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So, of course, you want to know what they taste like. Incredibly lemony. Concentrated lemonness. Sour, but not unpleasantly so. Also a sort of smoky flavour.


The following was provided by my dear friend 马芬洲 (Ma Fen Zhou) who is herself Zhuang. It is posted with her permission.

How to Make Zhuang Preserved Lemons
By 马芬洲

Zhuang preserved lemons is a kind of common food for the southern Zhuang ethnic minority who live around Nanning Prefecture of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in China. The Zhuang people like to make it as a relish for eating with congee or congee with corn powder. This relish is a mixture of chopped preserved lemons, red chilli and garlic or ginger slice in soy sauce and peanut oil or sesame oil.

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Sometimes the Zhuang people use preserved lemons as an ingredient in cooking. The most famous Zhuang food in Guangxi is Lemon Duck, which is a common home cooked dish in Wuming County, which belongs to Nanning Prefecture.

The following steps show you how to make Zhuang preserved lemons.

Step 1 Shopping

Buy some green lemons.

Step 2 Cleaning

Wash green lemons.

Step 3 Sunning

Leave green lemons under the sunshine till it gets dry.

Step 4 Salting

If you salt 5kg green lemons, mix 0.25kg salt with green lemons. Keep the salted green lemons in a transparent jar. The jar must be well sealed. Leave the jar under the sunshine till the salted green lemons turn yellow. For example, leave it on the balcony. Maybe it will take months to wait for those salted green lemons to turn yellow. Later, get the jar of salted yellow lemons back. Unseal the jar. Then cover 1kg salt over the salted yellow lemons. Seal well the jar again.

Step 5 Preserving

Keep the sealed jar of salted yellow lemons at least 3 years. And the colour of salted yellow lemons will turn brown day by day. It can be dark brown later. The longer you keep preserved lemons, the better taste it is. If you eat it earlier than 2 years, it will taste bitter. After 3 years, it can be unsealed. Please use clean chopsticks to pick it. Don’t use oily chopsticks, or the oil will make preserved lemons go bad. Remember to seal the jar well after picking preserved lemons every time.

Edited by liuzhou, 16 August 2008 - 09:35 PM.

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#2 C J Phillips

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Posted 16 August 2008 - 10:33 AM

That is fabulous! Thanks for the recipe and all that delectable information! What are you going to use those lemons for? Any good ideas?
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#3 liuzhou

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Posted 16 August 2008 - 09:48 PM

I've eaten one in the relish described. I'm now trying to extract the "secret" recipe for the Lemon Duck from my Zhuang friend's grandmother. Sweet-talking her failed. Bribes failed. Guess we're going to have to torture her. :unsure:

I will post it if I ever get it.

#4 C J Phillips

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Posted 18 August 2008 - 10:55 AM

Sign me up for the eGullet Black Ops.
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#5 TheFuzzy

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Posted 18 August 2008 - 10:35 PM

Linzou,

Cool! Any idea why they're so brown?

Well, I've been keeping my Moroccan Preserved Lemons for 2 years now, I guess I don't have to worry about them.
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#6 liuzhou

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Posted 19 August 2008 - 03:11 AM

Any idea why they're so brown?


Nope. But I think if you stick most things in salt and sun for eleven years ...

Have you never seen an Australian surfer? :smile:
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#7 TheFuzzy

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Posted 19 August 2008 - 08:54 PM

Any idea why they're so brown?
Have you never seen an Australian surfer?  :smile:


Hah!

Edited by TheFuzzy, 19 August 2008 - 08:55 PM.

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#8 liuzhou

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Posted 22 September 2008 - 03:34 AM

At the weekend, I finally set off in search of the fabled Nanning preserved lemon duck. Cunningly, I went to Nanning where I called aforementioned Zhuang friend who called an ex-high school classmate whose grandfather happened to be the founder of Nanning's first preserved lemon duck restaurant.

Well, he didn't found a preserved lemon duck restaurant, but he did open a hole in the wall, two table restaurant. Later, his daughter, introduced lemon duck to the menu and the place really took off. Today, they have seven outlets throughout Nanning and they ain't hole in the wall. This is the one I ate at.

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We were ushered into this elegantly decorated private room and were served tea as we waited for our guests.

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Finally, we ordered and food for five people (including grandson) and were served:

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Duck's Blood and Chinese Chive Soup

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This was described on the menu as "A Little Red". It is mixed "wild" vegetables with preserved eggs. I'm told the "wild" vegetable is grown in greenhouses.

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Shui Jiao. (Dumplings in Soup)

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"Old Mother's Fish" (Steamed Bass)

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Papaya and Red Clams

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And, of course, the star of the show - Preserved Lemon Duck.

Everything was excellent, but it's the duck I came for. It was sensational. They offered a choice of three different breeds of duck, but grandson recommended the cheapest - Pekin Duck - the same beast traditionally used for Peking Duck.

The dish is duck, infused with the scent and flavor of lemon, but a deep rich flavor. The lemon is so obvious but never overwhelmed the duckiness. Apart from the duck and preserved lemons, identifiable ingredients were ginger and whole garlic cloves.

So it was time to interrogate grandson (who admitted that he had eaten this dish almost every day of his 24 years and never tires of it.) How to make it!

He carefully explained the process. Take a duck. Stuff it with the ingredients.

"What ingredients?"

The ingredients for the duck.

Then roast the duck with the ingredients. There are many ingredients.

Cook the preserved lemons separately with the ingredients for preserved lemons.

Chop the duck into small pieces and add the lemon at the last minute.

Serve.

Ingredients?

Yes, many ingredients.

I was clearly getting nowhere!

He did later point out that it is difficult for them to expand much more as there is a shortage of "ingredients" and that it takes an absolute minimum of three months to make the preserved lemons.

I understand their reluctance to give away their "secret" to passing foreigners (or anyone else.) They are not the only lemon duck restaurant in Nanning, but the were the originals and are regarded still as the best. I will be back.

P.S. When we asked for the bill, we were told it had been "lost". Grandson had cancelled it!

From memory the duck was ¥20 (about $3 US, £1.60, €2). Other dishes were. around the ¥18-25 mark. Very reasonable.

Edited by liuzhou, 22 September 2008 - 08:07 PM.


#9 jo-mel

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Posted 22 September 2008 - 08:49 AM

liuzhou -- sounds like the restaurant grandson is related to your Zhuang friend's Grandmother!! I bet if either DID give you a recipe, they would leave out a couple of key ingredients! LOL!

#10 Ce'nedra

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Posted 23 September 2008 - 01:49 AM

Wow insight into Zhuang food! Thanks so much for creating this thread -was a really interesting read.

It's funny how people are so protective over their recipes hahha!
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#11 liuzhou

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Posted 24 September 2008 - 02:48 AM

Slight correction (Too late to edit)

The Lemon Duck was ¥20 per jin (500 grammes). Still very reasonable.

#12 liuzhou

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Posted 27 September 2008 - 10:30 PM

If anyone finds themselves in Nanning and wants to try - here are the addresses (in Chinese) of six of the branches. The seventh is the newest and not on their advertising yet.

#13 TheFuzzy

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Posted 28 September 2008 - 10:29 PM

Liuzhou,

Hah! :laugh:

Reminds me of a shopping experience I had in a Thai supermarket once. I found a utensil for sale I not only couldn't identify, I couldn't even conceive of its use.

"What is this?"

"It's eight dollars."

[pause. wait for friends to stop snickering.]

"What's it used for?"

"It's for cooking."

[longer pause]

"Fine, I'll take it."

We christened it "Mr. Thingy" and I think it ended up being someone's wedding present.
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#14 hzrt8w

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 12:48 AM

liuzhou: do you know the Chinese name (Chinese characters) for this "preserved lemon"?
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#15 liuzhou

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 10:26 PM

liuzhou:  do you know the Chinese name (Chinese characters) for this "preserved lemon"?

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#16 liuzhou

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Posted 06 December 2008 - 03:45 AM

I came across this recipe in Chinese. Unfortunately, it doesn't give quantities for the ingredients, but it gives enough information for me to experiment with.

Here is my loose translation.

"Lemon duck is Wuming County's characteristic dish. The cooking method is to take a slaughtered, cleaned duck and cut it into pieces and stir fry until cooked medium rare then add slivers of pickled chilli pepper, pickled mustard, pickled ginger, pickled lemon, smoked plum, ginger and mashed garlic. Simmer together till the duck is nearly well done, add salted beans, sesame oil and cooked till well done and then remove from pan. Its taste is sour and peppery together, with delicious flavour and is extremely appetising."

As Jo-mel said, there is probably a key ingredient or two missing.

Edited by liuzhou, 06 December 2008 - 03:45 AM.


#17 LuckysticksPRC

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Posted 07 December 2008 - 09:06 PM

My girlfriend's mother always gives her a couple of jars of these to take home to me whenever they get a chance. Her father makes lots of sour dipping sauces for his poultry dishes, a custom he claims is unique to his style of Zhuang cooking.

Zhuang cooking is basically absent from cooking discussions in China, but I think what they do with poultry deserves recognition...also for kourou 扣肉. If you're in Nanning, go to the printing street behind the giant discount clothing mall downtown. At the end of the street, at the corner, is small 老友粉店 that has good noodles, but possibly the best kourou in all of Guangxi Province. Served on sticky rice with a little sweet Chinese sausage 香肠 cooked into it, and just a touch of the kourou sauce poured over the whole thing. Absolute country comfort fillin' food, Zhuang-style.

#18 liuzhou

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 09:55 PM

Kou rou isn't really Zhuang, though. It originated among the Hakka people.

The Guangxi version is slightly different in that the slices of pork belly are interleaved with slices of taro, whereas the original uses mustard greens.

Personally, I can't stand the stuff. Too fatty for me. Although, I may steal the odd piece of taro, seriously annoying mother-in-law who insists that you must eat the pork and the taro together.

By the way, she will severly disagree with you that the Nanning place does the best in Guangxi. As the whole world knows - she does! :rolleyes:

#19 C J Phillips

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Posted 09 May 2011 - 10:14 AM

"Mr. Thingy"! I have a drawer with a bunch of things I can't figure out what they're supposed to be for. Torture equipment? Medieval dentistry tools? Who knows.

I was wondering whether the preserved lemons you're talking about are at all like Hakka salted limes. I talked about them on my blog earlier this year and have a recipe there, and would be fascinated to know if they are in any way similar in taste and texture. The Hakka recipe calls for calamondins instead of lemons, so they cure pretty quickly and don't need to be sunned. However, they do turn a dark brown and taste delicious.

Thanks!

(So envious of that trip to Nanning...)

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#20 Jenni

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Posted 09 May 2011 - 10:37 AM

I was wondering whether the preserved lemons you're talking about are at all like Hakka salted limes. I talked about them on my blog earlier this year and have a recipe there, and would be fascinated to know if they are in any way similar in taste and texture. The Hakka recipe calls for calamondins instead of lemons, so they cure pretty quickly and don't need to be sunned.


Are calamondins the same thing as kalamansi limes? They are so delicious! My brother's housemate is filipino and he brought back a load from his last visit.

Incidentally, the preserved lemons in this thread look delicious. Rather like lemon/lime pickle actually!

#21 judiu

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Posted 09 May 2011 - 10:44 AM

@The Fuzzy and C J Phillips: We have several "What the heck is this thing" threads, and Andisenji is our guru. If you'll take pictures of the "stuff" (technical term, that) and post them, you might be surprised at what you'll find out! :smile:
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#22 liuzhou

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Posted 09 May 2011 - 08:11 PM

I was wondering whether the preserved lemons you're talking about are at all like Hakka salted limes.


Yes, sort of similar.

However, I have found that the Zhuang ones have a much deeper lemon flavor and are less salty.
No extra salt is added when I remove one, as you describe.

Coincidentally, last night I had one of the batch in my first post. Now 12 years old and getting better.

#23 fluffyboy

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Posted 09 May 2011 - 08:39 PM

Interesting! Initial thought it looks like preserved plum :biggrin:

#24 liuzhou

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 04:18 AM

I can't count! They are now 14 years old.

#25 pinkmagnolia921

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 01:31 PM

I am really glad I found this post. I made Moroccan Preserved Lemons at least 10 years ago and they have turned black and look just like the ones in the post. I don't know why they turned black--I thought that maybe all the acid from my canning jars corroded the lid and interacted with the metal somehow. However, I have continued to use them anyway and so far no one from my family has gotten food poisoning, LOL, so I assume they are OK. I use them in my Lemon & Olive Tagine Recipe. I have an Emile Henry Tagine and they have a recipe for preserved lemons, but they suggest adding vinegar to prevent them from turning black...hmm...however, they cover theirs with salted water, whereas I covered mine with 100% lemon juice (and salt.) So, I guess I'll just keep on using them...

#26 liuzhou

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 08:23 AM

I didn't expect to return to this thread, but almost 7 years to the day after starting it, I have finally tracked down the recipe for the lemon duck - including the 'secret ingredients'. No grandmothers were harmed in the making of this post.

Ingredients:

A duck. As suggested above, a Pekin duck is preferred.

2 Preserved lemons

50g Pickled ginger

8 Pickled Chili peppers

10 Pickled Chinese scallions (Allium Chinense) 藠头

20g Goosefruit (Randia cochinchinensis) 山黄皮

Half a bulb of garlic

1 small piece ginger

15ml light soy sauce

10ml dark soy sauce

30ml Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing is preferred)

10ml oyster sauce

10g sugar

Salt to taste

 

Method:

 

Chop duck into bite size pieces (on the bone).

 

Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the small piece of ginger and 15ml of the cooking wine. Add duck and blanch briefly. Drain and allow to dry.

 

Slice the pickled ginger and pickled peppers into slivers. Cut the Chinese scallions in half. Cut the lemon, remove the flesh then slice the peel into thin slices. Peel the garlic but leave cloves whole.

 

Heat a dry wok. When medium hot add the duck and allow the fat to render out. Do not add oil.

When the duck has taken on some colour, add the pickled ginger, pickled chili peppers, pickled scallions, goosefruit and garlic. 

Stir fry until the duck is almost cooked through. Add the cooking wine, soy sauces, oyster sauce, sugar and salt and continue to fry until the duck is fully cooked. If drying out, add a little water, but the final dish should be fairly dry.

Finally add the preserved lemon and fry for one minute.

Serve

 

I'm told that is is essential not to cook the lemon any longer than a minute as long cooking can turn it bitter and the scent evaporates..  
 


Edited by liuzhou, 20 August 2013 - 08:32 AM.

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#27 Keith_W

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 05:07 PM

Thanks for the recipe, Liuzhou.

Since I can't get those Zhuang preserved lemons here, I might have to make my own. There is an abundance of lemons here, and you can easily get preserved lemons, but these are usually made by Greeks or Middle Easterners. I think that would be completely different to Chinese preserved lemons! Can you comment on whether these can be substituted?
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#28 liuzhou

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 05:33 PM

 didn't expect to return to this thread, but almost 7 years to the day after starting it, I have finally tracked down the recipe

 
That should, of course, read "five years". I said I can't count.
 

you can easily get preserved lemons, but these are usually made by Greeks or Middle Easterners. I think that would be completely different to Chinese preserved lemons! Can you comment on whether these can be substituted?

 
Yes, I'm fairly sure European or North African preserved lemons would be very different. They tend to be salted for about a month at most. The Zhuang lemons are salted for at least a year, although five to ten years is considered best. The flavour is much more intense.

Edited by liuzhou, 20 August 2013 - 05:34 PM.






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