Cooking Basics: How to Zest a Lemon

Zesting lemons is one of our absolute favorite kitchen tasks. There’s something so satisfying about skimming the oily rind off the surface and ending up with a fragrant pile of sunshine-colored threads. Plus, we’re ever so slightly addicted to the flavor of lemon zest in pretty much everything. Here’s how we do it.
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My favorite way is to use a microplane. The hundreds of super-sharp teeth on this tool takes off just the right amount of skin and makes perfect zest. If you don’t have a microplane, you can also use the smallest holes on a cheese grater, though I find these are less sharp and even than a microplane.

I’m right handed, so I hold the microplane in my left hand and the lemon in my right. Brush the lemon over the microplane from the top of the lemon to the bottom. Use a gentle rocking motion, taking off just the top layer of skin. Rotate the lemon between each stroke so you get new surface area every time until you’ve gone all the way around the lemon.

The other way is to use a traditional zester, as in the picture above. This tool has a short handle that fits snugly in your hand with a metal head perforated by a row of holes.

To use a zester, I would hold the tool in my right hand and the lemon in my left. Gently scrape the holes of the zester along the surface of the lemon from top to bottom, removing a long ribbon of zest. Rotate the lemon and repeat. You can leave the zest in long ribbons or chop them into small pieces.

Whichever method you use, the key idea is to only remove the very top layer of skin and as little as possible of the spongy white pith lying just beneath. All of the aromatic and tasty oils reside in that top layer, while the pith starts to get pretty bitter.

Is this how you zest lemons, or do you have another way?

Related: Citrus Tips: Get More Juice from Limes and Lemons

(Images: Emma Christensen and Flickr member bradleygee licensed under Creative Commons)