this thing's incredible

The Funky, Salty Lemon Paste I Put in Cocktails (and Everything Else)

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist

I’m a chef who would rather (gently) squeeze tomatoes at the farmers’ market than do nearly anything else — good thing, because the Euro-size fridge in my flat in London requires near-daily grocery trips. But while stocking those two tiny shelves is always a joy, whittling down my condiment collection to make room for fresh produce has become a painful exercise in choosing a favorite child.

One item I’ll never get rid of, though, is New York Shuk’s Preserved Lemon Paste. In May, when a friend told me about the PLP, I was curious but not that curious — preserved (salt-cured) lemons usually come whole, and I’ve never made my way through a jar fast enough to allow it to muscle out a single member of my chile-crisp collection. (Although I do love the acid, salt, and funky umami fizz preserved lemon adds.) But after I registered the word paste, the PLP quickly earned a spot in the fridge. Finely dicing a whole lemon to add to, say, salsa verde is nice in theory, but so is taking a break from dicing on my days off. This lemon, thankfully, doesn’t need to be cut at all — in fact, the creators wanted to make a more intuitive version, so they blended two to three plump citrus fruits into each jar.

Paste is a bit of a misnomer. Instead of being creamy, its texture is soupy, which means it melts into a sauce or vinaigrette without any concerted whisking. It’s super-potent too: I tend to start with a tablespoon or so and go from there. I’m still scarred from the $22 jar of pistachio cream I went through in two weeks, so I’ve been thrilled that my $16 PLP has lasted all summer despite constant use.

When it’s hot out (which is every day), I drop a spoonful into a shaker full of ice, then empty a can of sparkling water over the top for a salted-lemonade spritz. Another spoonful of PLP mixed in my water bottle pre-run is possibly the best version of lemon-lime-flavored Gatorade. In the evening, I stir whatever leftover herbs I have — cilantro, mint, shiso, basil — together with some PLP and pour in a thumb of gin.

Photo: Lauren Joseph

Somehow, drinking it in every form hasn’t dissuaded me from cooking with it. When combined with full-fat yogurt, the preserved lemon’s brightness balances smoky grilled zucchini; brushed over a fat-capped pork chop, PLP cuts through the richness of the meat. And it works just as well in sweets — I whooshed a tablespoon through the batter of this easy olive-oil cake to impart a ton of flavor without messing with the alchemy of baking. And taking inspiration from pastry chef Rose Wilde, I stirred some through a simple yogurt-mousse cake frosting and into a finished crème anglaise before drizzling it over summer strawberries. But when friends come over and it’s too hot to cook, let alone bake, I’ve taken to swirling preserved-lemon paste through just-melty vanilla ice cream and sprinkling over some crushed pistachios.

Some other spreads and sauces we've written about