Gochugaru Preserved Lemons Recipe

Combine Korean chili pepper flakes with lemons and salt to create a side dish with a fruity, complex heat.

| May 2019

Photo by Grace Stufkosky


Gochugaru is the Korean chili pepper flake that provides the notorious bright-red color and signature spice to kimchi. Often ground a little finer than the roasted red pepper flakes we’re used to shaking on pizza and a little coarser than ground cayenne, gochugaru has a fruity, complex heat that makes it an ideal foil for pre-served lemons. It’s important to seek out salt-free gochugaru, as many commercially available brands come premixed with salt.

Because of their shared ability to make just about anything better, it only makes sense to marry these two workhorses of the fermentation world. We’re keeping all the best parts of preserved lemons here — they’re easy, low effort, versatile, and affordable — and simply adding the mouthwatering heat of kimchi. I’ve made these with both the more precious, thin-skinned Meyer lemons and big, gangly backyard lemons that show up in shopping bags on my doorstep throughout winter here in Arizona. Because you’ll be eating the skin, please do try to seek out organic, unsprayed, or backyard citrus.

Gochugaru photo from Adobe Stock


  • 6 to 8 lemons, depending on the size of your lemons
  • Salt
  • Salt-free gochugaru


  • 1 wide-mouth quart jar

Yield: 1 quart


  1. Trim off the stem end and bottom of each lemon.
  2. Set the lemon on its now-flat end and make 3 cuts to slice each one into sixths, stopping about three-fourths of the way down so that the slices do not completely separate the lemon.
  3. Add a heaping tablespoon of salt to a wide-mouth quart mason jar.
  4. One at a time, holding a cut lemon over the opening of the same wide-mouth quart jar, use a tablespoon to scoop and pour salt between the slices of the lemon, letting the extra fall into the jar. Do not worry about leveling the tablespoon perfectly.
  5. Then scoop about 1/2 teaspoon of gochugaru into the lemon in the same way.
  6. Push the lemon into the jar however it best fits, hard enough to release its juices. It’s OK to smash them in pretty hard.
  7. Repeat with the remaining lemons until the jar is full to its shoulder.
  8. Top off the jar with another heaping tablespoon of salt, cover the jar with a 2-piece mason jar lid, and allow the jar to sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  9. If after 24 hours the lemons are not comfortably submerged in their own juices, squeeze the juice of an additional 1 to 2 lemons into the jar until they are.
  10. Shake the jar and allow it to sit at room temperature for 48 more hours.
  11. After 72 hours total, shake the jar and transfer it to the refrigerator for 3 weeks.

To serve, remove your desired amount of lemon and mince finely, removing and discarding the seeds as you go. Some people will either rinse the preserved lemons before using or only use the peel, but I like to use them as is and simply adjust the amount of salt in the dish overall.



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