While working at Cashion’s, I have watched Chef John infuse several of his potato dishes with both lemon zest and lemon juice. The combination of lemon and potato is often seen in Greek cuisine. Previously, I would never have thought that lemon and potato could work wonders together. When combined, the zests and juice tone down the starchy flavor of the potato. The potato is transformed, becoming light and refreshing (I won’t give away his recipe, you’ll have to come to try it!). After preparing potatoes with Gruyere cheese and heavy cream one too many times in culinary school, I was ecstatic to make this discovery.
The juice from a lemon is acidic, while the zests are sweet. The decision to use either the zest or the juice depends on several factors, for example, what kind of dish you are preparing and what flavor your dish needs. If you want a lemon flavor without the acidity, then use the zests. If your dish needs acid to balance out the other flavors, use the juice.
The sweetness of lemon zest often works well in desserts. For example, the zests are an important component of Pate Sucree, a sweet pie dough infused with lemon flavor. Zests give the dough a lemon flavor without all the acid from the juice.
On the other hand, many savory sauces can benefit from adding lemon juice. The acidity can assist a savory sauce or salad dressing that is too sweet or bitter. A basic vinaigrette made using oil, which has a neutral, slightly bitter flavor, needs an acid such as lemon juice for balance. Mayonnaise utilizes lemon juice in a similar manner as well. Still don’t understand? Consider lemonade – the addition of lemons to sugar water results in a perfect balance of acidic and sweet.
While it may appear to be a simple little fruit (and it’s usually not too expensive either), the lemon is one of the most useful and versatile ingredients with which I have cooked. I try to keep a few in my kitchen so I can use them for my tomato sauces, pastas, chicken marinades, salads, cookie doughs or whatever need I may have.
Here’s a few of the recipes I discussed (both adapted from l’Academie de Cuisine) that utilize lemon zest and lemon juice. Enjoy!
Pate Sucree (Sweet dough)
- 8 oz. butter
- 4 oz. sugar
- 12 oz. AP flour
- 1 egg
- Zest from 1 lemon
- Pinch salt
- In a mixer, combine flour, salt and sugar, and then room temperature butter in pieces.
- Add egg and mix until combined. Then add vanilla and lemon zest and continue to mix.
- Chill to set butter in dough.
- Roll chilled dough into desired shape (this works best when the dough is cold. If it becomes too sticky, then put it back in the refrigerator).
- Make holes in dough with fork, then blind bake (using parchment and baking beans) the crust at 375 F until brown all the way through.
- Fill the crust with custard and fresh fruit, chocolate custard and chocolate shavings, or whatever you’d prefer.
(Yes, this recipe has raw eggs. If it makes you nervous, use pasteurized eggs.)
- Egg yolk
- Lemon juice
- Dijon mustard
- Salt, pepper and seasonings
- Whisk egg yolks with juice of one lemon and Dijon (try this ratio – 1 yolk : juice of 1 lemon : 1 tablespoon Dijon)
- Add a neutrally flavored oil (such as canola oil) to the mixture, a little at a time, making sure to whisk constantly. Add oil until the ingredients have emulsified. Add a little water if necessary to help the ingredients combine. When the consistency of the mayo has thickened, but it is still creamy smooth, you’re done. For one yolk, it should take about a cup of oil, but trust your eyes first.
- Finish with salt, pepper and any seasonings you’d like, such as cayenne pepper, Old Bay or curry powder.
- Taste for seasonings, adjusting accordingly. This mayo will keep in the refrigerator for at least 3 days. After that, use common sense – if it smells or looks funny, don’t eat it.