How to Zest a Lemon

How to Zest a Lemon

Most citrus-accented recipes (lemon bars, orange chocolate chip cookies, Meyer lemon vinaigrette, chicken a orange) will call for "zest." This simply means the colored part of the rind, minus the white part (called pith), which is unpleasantly bitter. Here's how to properly remove the zest and leave the pith.

1 Wash the lemon in running water or soak the lemon in a bowl of water and then rinse.

2 Grip the lemon in your palm from end to end, so that the pointier end touches your little finger and the other end touches your thumb.

3 Prop a Microplane grater against a clean cutting board, angling it at 45 degrees. Twist your wrist while scraping the fruit against the grater in a long stroke, from one end of the lemon to the other. Don't press too hard, or you'll scrape the pith.

4 Rotate the lemon. Repeat the zesting motion one strip at a time, until the whole fruit—or as much as you need—is scraped clean of the yellow part.

5 If you don't have a Microplane, you can use a lemon zester—a specialized peeler that pulls off 3 or 4 tiny strips at a time—or a vegetable peeler to pull off super-thin strips. If you use a peeler, you'll likely need to scrape off the pith and chop the zest finely with a knife. You can also put wide strips of zest in a food processor and process it finely.

If Life Gives You Lemons . . .

If you need lemon zest for a recipe, but not the juice, you'll be left with a naked lemon. What to do? Waste not, want not! Why not?

• Stuff it into the cavity of a chicken before roasting, along with aromatics like rosemary and sage. This lends a tangy citrus flavor and keeps the meat moist.

• Chop it into chunks, put them in a bowl, and cover liberally with granulated sugar. Scoop ½ cup of the lemon-sugar mixture into the bottom of a tall glass, add ice, and top with cranberry juice for a bracing summer cocktail.

• Cut it into wedges and freeze for later use. Add the frozen wedges to a pot of homemade chicken soup or a pitcher of water to brighten the flavor.

• Make lemon syrup by combining equal amounts lemon juice and sugar, heating the lemon juice gently in the microwave or on the stovetop to help the sugar melt. Add ice and gin for a cocktail, seltzer or water for lemonade.

• Bleach a stain out of cotton by rubbing lemon juice and salt into it. Lemon juice is especially good for removing food stains.


Fragrant, oily lemon rind enhances the flavor of both sweet and savory foods. For a seasoning that packs a punch, lemon pepper is the way to go on fish, fowl, fresh salads, and more. I love it sprinkled on cantaloupe chunks, or speared with slices of prosciutto or thin-cut ham, and it's the ideal flavoring for roasted chicken.

Makes about ½ cup

6 lemons

⅓ cup crushed black peppercorns

¼ cup kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Zest the lemons and set the zest aside.

3. Grind the peppercorns coarsely, either in a pepper mill, a clean coffee grinder, or with a mortar and pestle.

4. Mix the lemon zest and peppercorns together in a bowl, and then spread the mixture out on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the zest is completely dried, about 25 to 30 minutes.

5. Transfer the dried lemon-pepper mixture to a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle, and grind until blended and finer in texture.

6. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl, add the salt, and stir until well combined. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.