Squeeze Play

We use lemon juice frequently in our culinary classes, for everything from making hollandaise to keeping apples from oxidizing. New students will come to me in a panic and say, “We are out of lemon juice!” Each time I have the same response: “It’s inside the lemon.”

There is a big difference between bottled lemon juice and fresh-squeezed. Bottled lemon juice will prevent oxidation in apples, but it lacks the depth and soul of fresh-squeezed juice. One great use of fresh lemon juice is lemon curd. Whether you’re spreading it on toast or using it for pastry fillings, lemon curd with fresh juice is always a winner.

There is not a lot of preparation before juicing the lemons; wash them and you are ready to go. One thing to consider is if you want to utilize the zest (the very outer part of the citrus peel, not the white or pith) of the lemon. You can still retrieve the zest after juicing but it is much easier when the lemons are whole. If you have a zester, or microplane, you can remove the zest very easily. When zested from a microplane or zester, the zest is very small and will need to be used relatively quickly.

Another way to remove the zest is with a peeler. Carefully try to peel the very outermost surface of the lemon, leaving all the white on the fruit. If needed, trim off any white on the inside of the zest with a paring knife. Whole pieces of zest can then be minced or candied; they also freeze well in zip-close bags. The lemons can be saved as “balled lemons” for juicing. Balled lemons should be used within a week since they will dry out more quickly without their outer protection.

In most cases, a fork will be sufficient if you need just a small amount of lemon juice. Roll the lemon on the counter with a medium amount of pressure to help loosen the fruit inside the lemon. Cut the lemon in the half (across the equator), stick the fork in the center and rotate the lemon around the fork four or five times, while also cranking up and down until all juice has been removed.

If you need a large amount of fresh juice, work in an assembly-line fashion. Roll all the lemons, cut all the lemons in half, and then juice all the lemons. If you are planning on juicing a large number of lemons, you may want to invest in a hand-crank citrus juicer. Many food processors have an attachment that helps speed up the process.

The juice will hold well in the refrigerator for a few days. If you have excess that you can’t use within a few days, you may freeze it with some quality loss, but it will still be better than bottled juice. The process is similar to any other citrus, and your dish will stand out above others.

The process of curding involves taking all of the main ingredients ― juice or pulp (usually citrus or tart fruit), egg yolk and sugar — and thickening them into a smooth paste. With most recipes, including ice cream and other custards, you temper the yolks to keep them from over-cooking or scrambling. The simplification of this recipe — all ingredients added at once without a pile of scrambled yolks — is possible by the addition of a large amount of sugar. With the addition of sugar, the yolks coagulate at a higher temperature, allowing the mixture to be brought to a simmer to thicken.

Lemon Curd
Makes about 3 cups

10 egg yolks
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 8 small lemons or 5 to 6 large lemons)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup limoncello (rum can be used as a substitution)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter sliced
Zest from 1 or 2 lemons (optional)
Pinch of salt

Whisk yolks, lemon juice, sugar, and limoncello together in saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Cook while whisking until curd comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Let curd sit for 5 to 10 minutes to cool slightly. Add butter, a few pieces at a time, while whisking to emulsify. Add a pinch of salt and zest, if desired. Chill uncovered in refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours until fully set. Use as desired. Lemon curd keeps for 1 week in the refrigerator if covered tightly after it cools and sets.

Variation: Use any other citrus juice or tart fruit puree; adjust with lemon or lime juice to balance acidity and sourness of the curd.

Use lemon curd as a spread on scones and toast, in place of syrup on pancakes and waffles, as filling for doughnuts and pastries, swirled into yogurt, topping for berries, or topping for cake. The possibilities are infinite.

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