There are many reasons why you might want to know how to zest a lemon. It's not a difficult thing to do, but understanding the uses of lemon zest may be enough to push you to take the time to put more parts of your lemon to use.
Let's take a look at lemon zest, how to get it, and how to use it.
What is Lemon Zest?
When you eat a lemon, you usually cut it in half or peel it, to get to the pulp-filled parts within. Or, you cut it in half and have at it with your juicer and toss the rest of it away. The thing is, when you throw the peel of the lemon away you are tossing a very important ingredient that you could be using in your baking and other things in the kitchen.
Lemon zest is made by scraping off the outermost portion of the rind. You can get zest from any fruit, including limes and oranges. Grating fresh zest at home to use in cooking and baking allows you to add a fresher and more potent flavor than you get from dried zest purchased from the store – and you can use your zest to make your own citrus oils as well (which are great for cooking, baking, and aromatherapy).
Citrus zest isn't as bitter as you think – the bitter part is the white part. When zesting, you're removing the colored part from the white of the rind, which is actually called the pith. You can get about a tablespoon of lemon zest from one medium lemon. Never throw out your citrus peels anymore, and start removing the zest from them (you can dry it for future use if you don't need it right this moment).
Lemon zest is also rich in vitamins, and there is more vitamin C stored there that you're missing out on if you're not using more of the fruit.
How to Zest a Lemon
You will want to zest the lemon before you juice it – that firmness will help make removing the zest easier. There are also some tools you will want to invest in if you plan to start zesting your citrus fruits more often – while you can use your typical grater that you use on cheese, you can purchase a zester that is more suited to the size of a citrus fruit and is sharper for removing that outside most part of the rind.
Before you begin zesting your lemon, you need to wash it first. Some (most store-bought) fruit has a waxy coating on it that is intended to help keep it fresh – you want to get that coating off. That means you're going to need to clean the lemon with warm water and some kind of fruit washing solution (or your dish soap – just rinse it well), and then pat it dry with a kitchen towel.
Be sure you're only getting that outer layer – if you get some of the white pith layer it will give you a bitter tasting zest. Once you've done your grating or zesting, you'll need to figure out how you want to store or use your lemon zest.
Don't forget to take care of your zester or grater too. Wash them immediately after use to keep the lemon juices and pieces from sticking into those small holes.
Storing Your Lemon Zest
If you want to keep your lemon zest fresh, you can freeze it. Just put it in a freezer bag and freeze it until you need it. It with thaw fairly quickly when you take it out for you, so you can just put it on the counter while you're preparing the rest of your dish. If you're planning to use it up in the next couple of days you can pop it in the refrigerator.
If you zested a lemon and still want to save that lemon for later, it needs proper protection and storage as well. Wrap it in some plastic wrap to help keep it from drying out and then place it in the fridge. Use it in the next couple of days.
You can also opt to dry the zest for future use. There are things that call for dried zest, so consider drying some if you have an abundance of it. You can do this by letting it sit out overnight on a tray, cooking it in the oven on a low temperature until dry (on a cookie sheet), or in a food dehydrator.
Dried zest can be turned into a powder for adding to baking mixes and for using to flavor lemon bars and lemon cookies. Another way you can flavor things using your lemon zest is by using it to make lemon oil.
For lemon oil, you will need a clear liquor (like vodka), a dark jar with a lid (or a dark place to put the jar for a week or so), and the zest. Put the zest in the jar, fill with the liquor, seal it, and place in the back of a dark cupboard. Shake it daily, and in about a week you'll have lemon oil (just strain the zest out with a cheesecloth).
How to Use Your Lemon Zest
There are plenty of uses for lemon zest in the kitchen. By using it in yours, you'll be able to create new flavors you've never experienced before.
1. Use It in Baked Goods
You'll be amazed at how a little bit of lemon zest can enhance the flavors of your baked goods. You can use it in any type of baked goods, even if it's not lemon flavored (take it easy – a little goes a long way). Adding it to your lemon based baked goods will ensure that they have a fresh lemon flavor, even if the base lemon portion is pudding or some other faux lemon flavoring.
The same thing goes with using lime zest in a key lime pie or using orange zest in orange muffins for breakfast. Nothing adds a little kick of fresh citrus flavor quite like citrus zest.
2. Use It in Homemade Vinaigrette
If you make a homemade vinaigrette or similar dressing, lemon zest (or other citrus zest choices) are a must. It will add wonderful flavor. You might even consider using lemon or other citrus zest in a vinegar and letting it soak up the flavors over time, then use that for your vinaigrette dressing or in place of regular vinegar in other recipes (flavored vinegar is popular, and you can do it will all sorts of things – like garlic, hot peppers, or thyme).
3. Add It to Pasta
Lemon zest is great with pasta, and you can include it in many ways. Most often you'll be adding it to the sauce – a small amount of lemon zest in tomato sauce gives it a fresh zing, and it's a must-have ingredient in pesto. Add it right at the last moment of cooking for the most flavor.
If you want the most flavor from your lemon zest, grate some right over top of your dish (you'll especially love it on seafood pasta dishes. Include it with your Parmesan as a final ingredient.
4. Use It in Sauces
Speaking of sauces – pesto and pasta sauce aren't the only sauces that will benefit from the addition of some lemon zest. You can add some to your marinades and pan sauces you use for cooking things like steaks, chicken, and even pork chops.
Use it to develop your own marinades and cooking sauces with things like wine, olive oil, vinegar, and other liquids, along with spices like garlic. If you want food with more flavor, add the zest toward the end of the cook time.
Final Thoughts on How to Zest a Lemon
When you create meals from scratch at home, even the smallest details of those meals can be extremely rewarding – and homemade foods taste so much better (even if it's just that you like it better because you had a hand in its creation). Learning how to zest a lemon is easy, so now that you have the skills you can add so much more flavor to all of your meals.