Everything You Wanted To Know (or not) About: Meyer Lemons

Monday, March 26, 2012

Myer lemons. At first, borderline delicacies in the citrus family, only whispered at fancy restaurants and coveted by us home cooks, only to be disappointed when not only we could not find them at our local markets, but if we were so fortuitous, we could not afford their astromical prices. Good news is now they're as prevelant as their more familiar-looking cousin, the ___ lemon. And thanks to the laws of supply and demand, they're not quite affordable.

Meyer lemons are natives of China actually, brought over to the US by way of agriculturalist Frank Nicholas Myer (after whom the lemon is named) in the early 1900's. In China they were grown primarily as an ornimental tree -- for decoration rather than culinary -- but the American chefs found their flavor irresitable. And I agree.

The meyer lemon tastes like a cross between 75% tart lemon and 25% sweeter orange. It's a really nice flavor to cook with for savory dishes I think, because it doesn't have that formidable acidic punch like a regular lemon has. So if you're working with milder or more delicate items in your dish, like say very mild fish or vegetables, the less aggressive myer lemon won't overpower those ingredients as much as a regular lemon can. Similarly, they are wonderful for cocktails. And conversely, their milder taste tends to get lost in baking so I stay away from them for things like lemon pies or curds where you're looking for that irresistable acidic punch.

How do you tell them apart? First, the texture of the skin. A myer lemon is very smooth and almost glistens while a regular lemon has small tiny bumps or grooves. The myer lemon also tends to be a little rounder in shape, where the true lemon is more like an oval or even football shaped. If you slice into the lemon, the myer's flesh is slightly darker in color than the regular lemon. The zest of the myer lemon I think is slightly sweeter as well.

So how do you use one? The same way you'd use a regular lemon, except keep in mind its milder flavor! I've found them perfect for dips and aoli, zested over blanced or grilled vegetables, juiced for cocktails, and sliced into wedges and served with cold raw shellfish. They're particularly amazing with raw oysters! Here's a very easy and quick "aoli" dipping sauce that's perfect for the early spring vegetables like artichokes, asparagus, and even just scallions. It comes together in literally seconds and stays up to a week in the fridge, covered in an air-tight container. Enjoy your myer lemons!

Myer Lemon Aoli
1/2 cup good quality mayo (or your own homemade)
1 myer lemon -- zest and juice
pinch of kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp fresh dill leaves, roughly chopped

Place the mayo in a small mixing bowl. Add the zest and juice of the myer lemon, the salt, a little bit of pepper to taste, and the dill leaves. Whisk together until smooth and serve.

1 comment:

Christa Jeanne said...

My grandmother had a Meyer lemon tree there at her home in La Crescenta, and she made the most AMAZING lemon bars all the time!!! My mother somehow failed to get the recipe before Gram passed away, so I've looked in vain for a comparable recipe for years to no avail. But I never factored in the use of a Meyer lemon vs. a normal one to the failure. I bet that's why my lemon bars never taste as good!