Meet Spa Chef Bill Wavrin: He’s Bubbling About Fermentation

lemons.JPGLast week I invited my good friend Chef Bill Wavrin over for dinner. My white lab "Starr" gave him the warmest greeting ever (Bill is that kind of guy and deserves it!). I was making a chicken tagine, and as if right on cue he handed me a big gift jar of his Moroccan-style preserved lemons. 

I first met Bill 25 years ago at Rancho La Puerta when he was riding his bike here and there, wearing his trademark psychedelic chef pants. A few years later he was joined by his infant daughter Billie Jean on the back (quite possibly the cutest curly haired baby I've ever seen outside of mine own three). Bill and his wife Rosie lived in a rustic adobe house out on the edge of the Ranch's organic farm, where the stars are so brilliant over Mt. Kuchumaa they blanket the summit. 

Billie Jean is now old enough to start driving. Bill has had many well-deserved accolades, including being a James Beard Award-nominated cookbook author of "The Rancho La Puerta Cookbook: 175 Bold Vegetarian Recipes From America's Premier Fitness Spa." I consider him not only a great friend, but also one of the pioneers of satisfying, filling, fresh, clean and honest spa cuisine. 

These preserved lemons are something you might not expect of a spa chef, but Bill is a guy who also specializes in Zihuatanejo fish tacos and an amazing pulled pork recipe--AND a killer sauerkraut. But it's easy to understand when you know Bill’s love of fermentation goes much further back than his own cooking career, and continues strong today in his own kitchen.

My mother's side of the family—my Swiss great grandparents—had a very large concern in Denver making sauerkraut in the late 1800s until about 1918,” says Bill. “My grandfather used to deliver hogs heads (small wooden barrels) of sauerkraut by horse-drawn wagon to bars, saloons and stores. Today I make kimchi, laban Lebanese style, Moroccan Lemons, Salsas, Pickled Beets and Sauerkraut. They all get those probiotics jumping in the gut! Plus, fermented food is simply delicious.”

If you have a Meyer lemon tree, like I do, that produces almost too many lemons--this is a simple recipe that you just might fall in love with.  

Moroccan Lemons

by Bill Wavrin

I first learned of this wonderful way preserving lemons years ago when Zanne Stewart, the food editor of Gourmet magazine, turned me on to the Moroccan tradition of preserving lemons through fermentation. I’ve seen Italians cure lemons the same way.

The fermentation process results in a delicious buttery lemon flavor. Just lightly rinse off the salt before using and voila: so good! I use them with chicken, fish, rice, pasta and salsas. Anything you add these guys to will bring the dish to another level.

And I have used lemons preserved in this manner that were two years in the jar and still wonderful, although shelf life may vary of course.

Ingredients:

10 pounds organic Meyer lemons

Sea Salt

Method:

Step #1: Wash and scrub the lemons very well.

Step #2: Trim the ends from each lemon. Cut an X down from one end until three-quarters of the way through (do not cut completely). Open each now-quartered lemon like a flower and spoon a teaspoon of salt into each. Layer tightly together (creating a first layer only) in a large sealable container and sprinkle salt over the top to cover. Use a wooden spoon or pestle and lightly pound down the lemons until they release their juice.

Step #3: Repeat with more layers until the jar is full. Cover your jar with a piece of cheesecloth to allow air to escape. Place the jar on the kitchen counter top.

Step #4: On the third day tightly secure a lid on the jar. Turn it upside down, leave it alone for three more days, then turn it back upright again. Continue the turning cycle for about two weeks until lemons are ready.

Step #3:Prior to using a lemon, wash off salt residue under cool clean water. Chop or slice as desired.

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