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Sprinkles of lemon zest are a must on top of any lemony dessert, including lemon bars, lemon pie, or a lemon-glazed pastry. Zest also adds punch to soups, salads, meat dishes, and even pasta. You don’t need a lot â€” just a little bit of zest goes a long way. As a general rule, you’ll get one tablespoon of zest from a medium-sized lemon.
While you can purchase dried, bottled zest, it doesn’t have quite the same fragrance and flavor as freshly grated fruit rind. And that’s okay, because it’s so easy to zest a fresh lemon, you really don’t need to bother with a bottle. All you need is a basic kitchen tool â€” a zester, a grater, or a vegetable peeler.
Regardless of which tool you use, the most important rule in zesting citrus is to only grate the outer, colored rind. Never zest down into the white, spongy pith that lies right below the rind. The pith is bitter and will spoil the flavor of your recipe.
Once you have your lemon zest, you can use it right away, or store it in the freezer for up to six months. To prevent the zest freezing into a hard clump, first lay it out on a dish or tray in a single layer, and then pop it into the freezer for several hours or overnight. Then, transfer it into a plastic freezer bag and keep it frozen until you need it. There’s generally no need to thaw the zest before you use it. It will thaw out very quickly once added to your cooking.
Here are the three basic ways to zest a lemon, along with the tools you need to do so. Whichever tool you choose, remember to first wash the citrus thoroughly under warm, running water, and then wipe it dry with a clean dish towel to remove any dirt, wax, or potentially harmful bacteria. Also, if you plan on juicing the lemon as well as zesting it, zesting comes first.