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Lemons are the key flavoring in countless recipes, but at America’s Test Kitchen, they are almost as indispensable as salt for seasoning and enhancing our cooking. Read on for 10 clever and effective ways we like to use lemons.
1. Protect Poached Fish
Put slices under fish when poaching to lift it off the pan’s bottom to ensure even cooking or around fish when steaming to infuse it with a delicate flavor.
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2. Prevent Sticky Pasta
Tap water is often slightly alkaline, which can weaken the protein network in pasta, allowing surface starches to absorb water and burst, leaving a sticky residue. Adding 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to 4 quarts of cooking water strengthens the pasta’s protein mesh and helps keep starch granules intact.
3. Dress Mild Greens
Vinaigrette made with lemon is better suited for dressing milder greens, such as green leaf, Bibb, and Boston lettuces, than dressings made with sharper-tasting vinegar. Use a 3:1 ratio of oil to lemon juice.
Make an salad even more irresistible with a perfect poached egg on top—learn our foolproof poached-egg technique with this how-to video.
4. Perk Up Soups and Stews
Add lemon juice to taste before serving to brighten chicken, fish, or vegetable soups and stews, or add a strip or two of zest at the start of cooking (discard before serving) for an infusion of floral lemon flavor.
5. Enhance Side Dishes
Seasoning rice, grains, and vegetables (even mashed potatoes) with juice and zest before serving brightens and enhances flavor. Use ¼ teaspoon of juice and 2 teaspoons of grated zest for four servings.
6. Grill and Squeeze Over Proteins
Grill halved lemons until charred and then squeeze over finished fish or poultry or add to a dressing. Grilling lemons caramelizes the sugars in the juice, creating more complex flavor. (You can also use lemons to cap the ends of skewers, so food at the ends won’t overcook.)
Learn how we make Grilled Lemon Chicken with Rosemary, shown above.
7. Keep Pesto Green
It’s common knowledge that lemon juice prevents cut vegetables from browning. But we found that the citric and ascorbic acids it contains can also keep basil pesto from oxidizing and losing its bright color: Add 2 teaspoons lemon juice for every cup of the packed herb.
8. Brighten Basting Oil
Add 1 teaspoon of grated zest, 1 tablespoon of juice, and 1 teaspoon of a minced herb such as rosemary to ½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil for a basting oil with a hint of citrus flavor.
9. Brighten Brown Butter Sauce
Lemon juice is a perfect complement to the nuttiness of brown butter. Add 1 tablespoon of juice for every 4 tablespoons of butter.
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10. Substitute for Wine
To replace up to ½ cup of wine in soups and pan sauces, add ½ cup of chicken broth plus 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.