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Learn to Hack a Lemon for These 5 Major Flavor Boosters

Created January 30, 2020
candied lemon peel, lemon peel, lemon butter, lemon zest, lemon juice
True or false: A squeeze of lemon can be the difference between a good meal and a great one? Answer: True. And lemon juice is just the beginning!

Lemon has the power to lift all the flavors in a dish. As an acidic ingredient, it brings flavors to life—through tangy contrast, it highlights the sweet, salty or savory elements in a dish. So when you add lemon, you aren’t just adding lemon flavor, you’re developing flavor in the entire dish. With juice, zest and curls, you can do a lot to boost flavor; with candied peels and compound lemon butter, you can do even more. So, start squeezing the most out your lemons with these five flavor boosters!

1: Lemon Juice

When your pasta, risotto or potatoes are falling flat, when your creamy sauce is a little too rich, when the dish you’ve made is “missing something”, a squeeze of lemon can really save the day. Its acidic contrast is particularly welcome in starchy, rich and sweet foods that tend toward one-note flavor or heaviness. Here are a few recipes that will always benefit from a jolt of juice:

How to Get the Most Juice Out of a Lemon

Psst … you’re wasting juice if you simply slice and squeeze. To get every last drop of juice out of your lemon: Roll it under your palm on a hard surface, applying moderate pressure, then slice it in half and squeeze it. If you have a hand juicer or citrus reamer, you’ll get even more juice because it helps to crush each of the juice-holding cells in the fruit’s flesh. If you don’t have those tools, never fear: Grab a fork, stick it into the sliced side of the lemon and hold the fork firm as you twist the lemon around it. You’ll get more juice if the lemon is at room temperature. If your lemon is rock hard, prick its skin with a fork and microwave for a few seconds. One medium lemon will yield about 3 tablespoons of juice.

2: Lemon Zest

When you want whatever you’re making to sparkle with bright lemony flavor, zest is the answer. It’s less tart than juice as the essential oils in the skin are much more powerful for imparting flavor. It’s a particularly handy ingredient for times when you don’t want to add more liquid. Use it in cooking or baking both sweet and savory foods—just remember, a little goes a long way!

How to Zest a Lemon

Wash your lemon well and, when you can, buy organic to avoid any coatings on the outside of the fruit. Using a small-holed grater—we love Microplanes® for this task—begin scraping off the yellow outer layer of the rind; stop before going too deep into the bitter white pith. One medium lemon will yield about 2 teaspoons of zest. For a sweet twist, mix zest with granulated sugar. Together, they make a pretty garnish on a dessert—try it on our Lemonade Party Cake—or just add a pinch to your tea.

3: Lemon Curls

When you want to infuse your drink with an extra zing of lemon, try an easy and elegant lemon curl. A curl, or a twist, is a classic cocktail garnish adding flavor, aroma and style to your drink, without diluting its flavor, but it’s just as welcome on your glass of iced tea, or even your dessert! Our Lemon Velvet Cream Cake looks lovely garnished with a couple of lemon curls.

How to Make Lemon Curls

Wash your lemon well. Take your channel knife and, beginning at the end of the fruit, press it into the lemon until you pierce just the yellow outer rind. Run the knife along the surface of the lemon, working your way around the fruit, until you have a curl of your desired size. If you want your curl to be extra curly, roll it up and place it inside a drinking straw for a few minutes.

tools for lemons

4: Candied Lemon Peel

When you want to give a showstopping dessert the royal treatment—we’re thinking about our Lemon Cheesecake right about now—candied lemon peels are just right, but don’t forget that you can eat them on their own too. Even better, package them up, and you’ve got a pretty hostess gift ready to go. While candying is not difficult to do, it does take a bit of patience—you’ll need to boil the peels three times to remove the bitterness. Still, it’s a fun and resourceful activity when life gives you lemons.

How to Candy Lemon Peel

  1. Wash your lemon(s) and use your vegetable peeler to cut off the rind, avoiding the bitter white pith below.
  2. Add lemon peels to a saucepan filled with two cups of water. Bring water to a boil, then strain. Refill pan with water and return to stovetop. Boil and drain peels a total of three times. After the third boil, drain and set aside.
  3. Make a simple syrup by combining 1 cup water and 2 cups sugar in pan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Add peels and reduce heat to low. Let peels cook until tender.
  4. Lift peels out of the pan using a slotted spoon and place on a plate or a cutting board. Reserve the liquid; it can be used in coffee, cocktails or other drinks. Allow peels to cool slightly, then toss in ½ cup of sugar. Make sure each piece is fully coated in sugar. Shake off any excess sugar. Allow peels to dry before storing in a sealed container.

5: Lemon Compound Butter

When you want to add that magical combination of brightness and richness to anything, try lemon compound butter! It tastes great on baked fish, grilled steak, steamed broccoli or smeared on a crusty roll. You can’t go wrong and it’s easy as pie. So next time you really want to impress your family or your dinner guests, follow the directions below for making lemon compound butter.

How to Make Lemon Compound Butter

  1. Allow butter to sit at room temperature until softened.
  2. Wash your lemon and zest it—again, we’d recommend a Microplane® for the task.
  3. Mash together the zest and the butter—a fork works well here.
  4. Use your hands to form the butter into a log (or the shape of your choice) and wrap in parchment paper.
  5. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The next time dinner’s falling a little flat, don’t reach for the hot sauce or the salt shaker, boost your flavors with a lemon hack instead! With the recipes below, you can dive into cooking and baking with this all-star ingredient!