Food & Drinks

There’s More Than One Way to Zest a Lemon

If you’re zesting a lot of lemons (say, for lemon curd), try this time-saving technique. It yields long, stringy curls of lemon zest—ideal for infusing sugar, curd, or syrup with lemony zing. These pretty lemon curlies can also be used as a garnish for desserts, like cookies or Super Lemony Olive Oil Cake, or savory dishes like lemon risotto. If you’re just after the aromatic essence and don’t want large curls of zest in the finished dish, you can strain them out.

How to do it: Hold the lemon in your hand like a baseball and firmly run the Microplane over the lemon’s surface from the top to the bottom in one long swoop, resulting in larger curls of zest. Rotate the lemon and continue zesting in stripes until you’ve covered the entire surface area of the lemon, with no yellow skin remaining.

Technique 3: The Twist

What’s it for: Garnishing cocktails, candying citrus peels.

Photograph by Isa Zapata, Food Styling by Taneka Morris, Prop Styling by Gerri K. Williams

If you’re working on your home bartending skills (or want to fancify your afternoon seltzer), garnish your drink with a twist of lemon. Instead of a Microplane, which has lots of tiny blades, achieve lemon peel spirals with a channel knife, a handheld tool with a curved blade at its head. A channel knife (which often has a citrus zester on the other end) digs long, thick tunnels in the lemon rind, yielding sturdy citrus spirals to garnish drinks, like a Champagne cocktail or lemon drop martini. This method will leave some of the pith intact, but that’s what helps the spiral hold its shape. To make candied citrus peels, blanch the curls in boiling water, simmer them in simple syrup, and coat them in sugar.

How to do it: Starting at the top of the lemon, dig the channel knife beneath the lemon skin and rotate to peel one long strip around the lemon’s circumference. Peel in one continuous motion, moving in a spiral down the fruit, or opt for multiple shorter strips. To make a spiral shape, twirl the strip around your finger.

Technique 4: Wide strips

What’s it for: Fuss-free garnishes, big-batch drinks, lemon zest emergencies.

Zach DeSart

While we consider a Microplane an essential addition to anyone’s cooking arsenal, not all home cooks have one. If you don’t have the above gadgets on hand, turn to a kitchen drawer mainstay: the vegetable peeler. Use the peeler (or, if you don’t have that either, a paring knife) to make wide strips of lemon peel, ideal for infusing lemonade or pots of chickpeas with citrusy flavor. They make a low-maintenance garnish for glasses of lemon-ginger tonic (take the same approach with blood oranges for this spiced blood orange shrub); you can also slice them into thin strips to top bowls of pasta al limone. In a pinch, you can finely mince wide strips of lemon peel as a substitute for finely grated lemon zest, but note that the Microplane achieves a finer, fluffier texture that’s difficult to replicate with a knife.

How to do it: Using a vegetable peeler, peel large strips of lemon rind, taking care to avoid the white pith. If desired, stack them on a cutting board and use a sharp paring knife to cut the lemon rind into thin strips or finely mince into itty-bitty pieces.

When life gives you lemons…

Use lemon zest in any number of ways: It can swing savory (add lemon zest to gremolata, an herby, citrusy condiment to sprinkle over just about any dish) or sweet (massage fresh lemon zest into sugar and incorporate it into baked goods). Try this honey-glazed Easter bread recipe, where lemon zest pairs up with lemon extract to deliver extra zingy, zesty flavor. Or go for a sweet-and-savory combo with this preserved lemon tea cake that triples down on the lemon flavor with juice, zest, and the titular preserves. 

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