You find a recipe that features lemon, and among the list of ingredients is lemon zest. Do you really need to use it? The answer is most certainly, “Yes!”
As opposed to lemon juice (fresh or bottled) or lemon extract, lemon zest delivers a brighter, tangier flavor. So, I guess if you want a dish that just has a mediocre level of lemon flavor you don’t have to bother. However, if you are reading a food blog, I am guessing you care about full-bodied flavors.
Zesting your lemon
Now that I have convinced you to buy a lemon or two and zest, you need to determine how you will procure that zest. The easiest answer is to use a zester. This handy tool is pressed firmly against the fruit, and removes thin strips of rind as you pull the tool. What is handy about a zester is that typically its blades are short enough so that you get only the zest.
However, if you don’t have a zester, there are other options. My second choice would be a microplane. Although you won’t get the long, thin threads like a zester, you will get tiny shreds of lemon. In fact, for some recipes this may be the preferable choice. With a microplane it is pretty easy to avoid the pith. Just grate the outermost layer of rind until you see a faint hint of white.
Another option is a vegetable peeler. The trick with a peeler is applying the correct amount of pressure. You want to remove the rind (yellow part) but not the pith (white part). The rind is what provides all of the tartness you are seeking. The pith is bitter and not pleasant- avoid at all costs!
What to do with all of this lemon zest
Now that I have convinced you that lemon zest is an important part of a recipe, what should you make? Let’s start with the most obvious answer, and check out Monday’s recipe for Love Me Some Lemon Whoopie Pies.
Zest appears in all sorts of recipes. Want a breakfast treat that tastes like a burst of sunshine? These scones are the answer. Zest also makes an appearance in this light and summery citrus salad. Not to be left behind, this bruschetta recipe features bright, lemony flavors.
A final note before you start zesting: it can be done to almost all citrus fruits. Limes and grapefruits can be zested. In fact, one of my suggested recipes above includes lime zest instead of lemon.
Buy some citrus fruit, and let the zesting begin!