Culinary Arts

How to Zest a Lemon: Easy Lemon Zest Recipe Ideas

Written by MasterClass

May 16, 2019 • 2 min read

With its concentrated burst of citric perfume, fresh lemon zest adds subtle depth wherever you crave it.


What Is Lemon Zest?

Zest is the outer skin of an unwaxed citrus fruit like lemon, often used as a flavoring or aromatic garnish. The skin of a lemon has two layers encircling the fruit: the zest (flavedo) and the pith (albedo). The zest is where all the delicious oils reside, while the protective white pith is dry and a little bitter.

4 Ways to Zest a Lemon

  1. Microplane. By far the easiest way to zest citrus fruit is with a microplane. Carefully scrape the surface of the skin with the microplane, rotating the lemon as you go.
  2. Box grater. If there’s no microplane in sight, one of the smaller grades on a box grater will get the job done. Because the blades are not as fine, you might wind up with a wetter zest that looks more like pulp, but carry on.
  3. Zester/Vegetable peeler. For cocktails and garnishes, use a designated citrus zester (which produces little thin curls carved from the skin) or a Y-peeler for broad ovals.
  4. Paring knife. This one’s the trickiest, only because you’ll need to apply just the right amount of pressure to avoid the bitter pith as you peel the zest. After you’ve peeled as much as you need, finely dice the zest with a chef's knife or slice into strips to suit your needs.

How to Make Roasted Lemon Peel

To make roasted lemon peel, zest lemons using a peeler or a knife to get broad strips. Preheat the oven to 300ºF, and roast the zest until they begin to harden and darken in color, about 15 minutes. Remove and let cool, then grind or pound into a fine consistency. Use it as a garnish over glazed baked goods, in marinades, rubs, or even salad dressings.

Culinary Uses of Lemon Zest: Lemon Zest Recipes

Baked goods like lemon bars, lemon meringue pies, lemon poppy seed muffins, and pound cake all benefit beautifully from a hit of lemon zest, which packs in flavor without the extra moisture. For a sweet preparation, try lemon zest in Chef Dominique Ansel’s mini madeleines recipe.

You can also use it in savory preparations: as a garnish over roasted vegetables, steeped in olive oil, or massaged into fresh salad greens. Chef Thomas Keller’s spaghetti aglio e olio features lemon zest as a bright finishing note.

Can You Substitute Lemon Zest?

If it’s the flavor you’re looking to substitute, you can use lemon extract or lemon juice, or simply use a different kind of citrus, like lime, grapefruit, or orange zest. If the recipe calls for large amounts of grated zest, it’s best to just track down some lemons since using liquids may throw off the textures and ratios in the recipe.

How to Store Lemon Zest

Lemon zest can be stored in the freezer in an airtight container. If you only zest a fruit partway, store it in the fridge in a sealed bag so it doesn’t dry out.

Find more culinary uses for lemon zest in Chef Dominique Ansel’s MasterClass.