Fancy tools aren’t needed to zest a lemon (but they do make it quick and easy, when available!). Here’s how to zest a lemon with or without a microplane or zester.
What the heck is lemon zest, you ask? The zest of any citrus is the colored outer layer of the peel. It has the oils and bright pop of flavor that you get from the fruit. Knowing how to zest a lemon, or lime, or orange is an easy skill that can take you far.
Why would you want just the zest you ask? Here’s a couple of reasons: You can get lemon, lime, tangerine or orange flavor into any recipe without adding the liquid. You can add a little pop of bright color to your recipe to make it beautiful.
Here’s my quick tutorial video How to Zest a lemon
In addition to using a microplane, which creates a super-finely grated zest. you can use this type of citrus zester (below). This zester creates long strands that look beautiful as a garnish. We eat with our eyes first, so take the extra seconds to add strong pop of color (and flavor) to your dishes that may look blah on the plate,
How to Zest without a Microplane or Grater
Certainly a microplane or grater will make this easier, be here’s how it’s done with tools that you have in your kitchen:
- Use a vegetable peeler to shave off the colored outer layer of the peel. Use gentle pressure so that you do not go down to the white layer. This is called the pith and it is pretty bitter tasting.
- Cut the pieces into thin strips, then chop finely. That’s it, it’s ready to flavor you cake. sauce, cookies rice . . .
Is your kitchen so basic that you don’t have a vegetable peeler? That’s ok too. A small paring knife can do the job too. Use the paring knife to shave off the outer layer of the peel just as with the peeler. Then finely chop with a larger knife.
See the step by step instructions in the How-to card below.
How to use Lemon Zest
All the ways I love to use lemon, lime and orange zest I couldn’t list them all. But here are some of my favorite ways.
Baking with Lemon Zest
Zests are great in baking because they doesn’t require any adjustments to the recipe. If you start adding an acidy liquid, a lot can go wrong. Baking is all about math and chemical reactions and I try not to mess with a good recipe. So, without changing a thing, add it to your favorite cake, muffin or cookie recipe.
This gluten-free lemon cake recipe uses lemon zest and and a little extract to give this cake a huge lemon flavor! I know that some people add lemon juice to their cakes, but the acid and liquid was changing the cake texture, so I stuck with the zest and it is one of my favorite cakes of all time.
Pasta, Rice and Quinoa
Want a simple dish? Lemon zest, olive oil, fresh basil, cherry tomatoes and salt. That’s it! Toss with cooked pasta, rice or quinoa for an easy weekday side dish.
Want another simple dish? Heat one can coconut milk with the zest of one lime, salt, a drop of sweetener and lots of grated fresh ginger . . . Done! Pour over noodles, rice or quinoa for a Thai inspired dish.
How about one more simple dish? Sautee the zest of one orange with, chopped garlic, 2 tsps toasted sesame oil, 1 Tbsp soy sauce and fresh grated ginger for 30 seconds. Stir into 1 1/2 c cooked rice or quinoa for an easy Asian inspired dish.
Chicken and Fish
Lemon Chicken or Fish – Combine the zest of one lemon with 1 Tbsp olive oil salt and pepper and pour over cooked chicken.
Orange Teriyaki – Combine the zest & juice of one orange with 2 tsps soy sauce or coconut aminos, 2 tsps toasted sesame oil, a few drops of sweetener (agave, maple syrup, sugar). Brush onto the chicken or fish during the last few minutes of cooking.
Questions? Need help with your cooking skills? Contact me!
How to Zest a Lemon Without a Zester or Grater
- vegetable peeler (y-shaped works best)
- cutting board
- large chopping knife
- small paring knife
- 1 lemon lime, orange or tangerine
- Zest with a Vegetable Peeler
- Using the vegetable peeler, shave the outer layer of the citrus peel. Use light pressure so that you do not go down to the white part of the skin. This is called the pith and is quite bitter.[mv_img id="5473"]
- Zest only on left and zest with pith on right.[mv_img id="5474"]
- Use your large knife to cut the strips of peel into thin long pieces.[mv_img id="5475"]
- Now rotate the strips 90 °and cut across.[mv_img id="5476"]
- Place the tip of the knife on the cutting board and press down on it with your non-dominant hand. Quickly rock the knife up and down to chop finely.[mv_img id="5477"]
- Zest with a Paring Knife
- Cradle the lemon in you non-dominant hand.
- Using the paring knife, start at the top of the lemon and use gentle pressure to shave off the outer layer of the peel.
- Chop the peel as described in steps 3-5 above.