To most, if you would ask how they would preserve citrus, they would likely talk about jam or marmalade. There is a select community, and I am assuming that if you read this blog that you are one of them, who think, “Duh, preserved lemons.” However natural with lemons, when presented something tasting incredibly similar yet appearing different, I was confounded as to how to use the whole thing.
This odd looking fruit, a Buddha’s hand, is something that I had seen in market a number of times and shuffled by almost afraid to pick it up. Until I had it in a lovely uni dish at Yusho in Chicago, I had not even eaten it, that I knew of. The flavor was amazing. It is bright and citrus-y, but with very little, or no, bitterness or sour flavors. I was motivated to incorporate this ingredient into my home cooking somehow. What I found was I could not possibly use it fast enough to keep it from molding, especially between the “fingers”.
After putting two and two together in associating the Buddha’s hands with lemons, I quickly moved to preservation mode. Since I had actually put up a great batch of preserved lemons to age earlier that week using a recipe from Eric Ripert in “A Return to Cooking“, I had supplies on my hands.
All it took was salt, meyer lemon juice, and the fruit. Since the entire fruit is rind-like material, I did not get a release of juice that would help the preservation process along, so adding the meyer lemon juice was a way to balance that out. Next was the wait.
Three months later, I pulled the preserved lemon and Buddha’s hand from the dark recesses of my urban kitchen cabinetry and opened them. I took a taste of both and was reminded that these were citrus fruits sitting in salt for months. The initial salt blast was almost enough to raise blood pressure to pre-weight-loss levels, but after getting past it, there was a really nice mellow brightness, but distilled strong lemon flavor. It is hard to describe other than to say it tastes like lemon if you add salt and remove the pucker. The real feature of the Buddha’s hand was the strong aromatic qualities. It is almost floral in nature and carries a lot of those characteristics in its flavors.
Despite having three months of waiting to determine how best to use these little tart preserved tendrils of goodness, they were completely out of sight/out of mind. Once I had it cracked, everything that I ate had a gremolata using preserved lemons, garlic, chili, and parsley. If not a gremolata, then a relish of garlic, fresno, preserved Buddha’s hand, and capers.
Once I got my hands on a bunch of carrot tops, a sauce came to mind. Basing it on an idea for a carrot top chimichurri discussed by the folks from “Ideas in Food” (side comment: they could not be nicer, smarter, more creative, or any other highly praising adjective that has escaped me…read their book and their blog), I expanded on the thought by grilling the carrot tops until a few started on fire (a good time to stop), then roasting a fresno chili, and adding in olive oil, the Tavern’s garlic beer vinegar and some of the preserved Buddha’s hand.
The sauce whipped up and tasted more like carrots than I expected, despite using the tops only. The flavor of the tops were really nicely accented by the chili, vinegar, and especially the preserved Buddha’s hand. Using it in a sauce really brought out the citron flavors while allowing the salt to season the sauce rather than attack your taste buds.
Sadly, for you, Buddha’s hands are likely out of season by now, but stow this one away for next year. When you run to the end of your fresh Buddha’s hand’s life, do not freak out and throw it away, but rather preserve it and use it year round.
Preserved Buddha’s Hand
Based on preserved lemon recipe by Eric Ripert in “A Return to Cooking“
- 1 Buddha’s hand
- 2 cups kosher salt
- 3 meyer lemons
Step one: Slice the fruit into manageably sized pieces.
Step two: Layer tightly, in a quart jar, starting with salt, then fruit, then salt, etc. until there is an inch in headspace.
Step three: Finally add juice from meyer lemons until covers fruit. Store in a dark, cool part of your kitchen for 3 months.