For the past few weeks, I’ve had a series of small bowls living at the end of my counter. They each contain a different citrus salt: grapefruit, blood orange, Meyer lemon, Kaffir lime. The levels of each go up and down as I juice a lemon, or eat a grapefruit, and add zest and salt to the pile, or pull out a pinch of the fragrant zest to add to a soup, curry or batch of scones.
It may seem disingenuous to call this process “lazy” when most people simply throw away citrus peels. But honestly: that’s just silly. There are about a million great uses for citrus peel, and as long as you have a good zester, this is one of the easiest. And while a dedicated batch of citrus salt doesn’t exactly break the bank, time & effort-wise, this method works much better with the citrus season rituals of grapefruit for breakfast, squeeze of lime on your lunchtime curry, and evening cocktails calling for Meyer lemon juice.
The process is simple: zest the citrus fruit (every citrus fruit, unless you are making marmalade, of course) before you use it. Sometimes, you’ll just want to toss the zest into whatever you’re making, along with the juice or fruit. Other times, you don’t need or want the zest just then: so pop it in a bowl with a bit of salt. There’s no cooking or dehydrating, no measuring or grinding: just toss it a bit between your fingers, to break up clumps and make sure the salt will work to dry the zest. Then just let it sit there, until you use it in a recipe, or add more to the bowl, or both.
In this particular process, I find I can use a lot less salt: about half zest and half salt. This results in a bright, vibrant citrus salt: really more of a salt-preserved zest, as the citrus flavor outstrips the salt flavor in most uses. Works well when you want that punch of citrus but don’t want to add too much salt to the dish. I used a very basic flaky kosher salt here, but you could certainly use fancier salt, or a mix of fine, flaky and coarse. Just make sure that you mix the zest well with salt right after zesting, so it does not have time to develop mold.
How should you use your citrus salt? I toss it in everything, really. Soups, stews and curries, but also as a finishing salt on eggs or salad, sprinkled on baked goods like scones, cookies or muffins, or as the salt (double the amount) in a yeast bread. Meyer lemon salt is brilliant on top of sea salt cream caramels, and a little pinch of grapefruit salt on chocolate ice cream is a wonder. I use a generous handful to salt a roasted chicken and, since Kaffir lime leaves are hard for me to find, I’m especially excited about having Kaffir lime salt on hand for Thai green curry. Any dish where you might want a bit of citrus zest: sprinkle, taste and sprinkle some more.
- citrus zest (preferably from organic or unsprayed fruit)
- salt (I used Diamond Crystal flaky kosher salt)
- Scrub and dry the fruit. Remove all zest, ideally with a Microplane zester or the fine holes on a box grater. In a small bowl, combine zest with a roughly equal amount of salt. Rub between your fingers a few times, to coat all of the zest in salt, until it feels like slightly damp sand. Allow to dry in open air, adding more zest and salt as you use additional fruit. Prior to long-term storage, you may want to rub citrus salt between your palms, over a large bowl, for a more homogeneous texture.
- There is no need to keep types of citrus separate: toss orange, lemon, lime zest, whatever you have, into a single bowl of salt and make a mixed citrus zest. Sometimes, during citrus season, I just have a single bowl that I keep adding zest and salt to, then using in recipes, so it is ever evolving.
- Dried herbs & chiles are a nice touch, if you feel like getting fancy, and/or want something extra special for gifting. I may add some Thai chile flakes to my Kaffir lime salt, and I’ve made orange-rosemary and lemon-coriander this year.
- It bears repeating: for edible citrus zest applications, it is best to source organic, unsprayed, or foraged/wild fruit if you possibly can. In general, the peel of most conventionally-farmed fruits contains the largest concentration of pesticides, fungicides or other chemicals used in treating the fruit. Since citrus peels are not typically eaten in the US, data on pesticide load are reported on the flesh of the fruit, and are an unreliable indicator of pesticide load present in the peel.
- I should note that the same process works with sugar; you’ll just need more of it, since sugar is much less drying than salt. But if baking is your thing, by all means: fill a quart jar half full with sugar, then add zest and shake, shake, shake. Add more sugar when it seems to get too wet. Or, do both! I’ve currently got grapefruit salt and sugar in bowls on the counter.
In an airtight container, at room temperature, for about 1 year.