You may want to skip the lemon zest in the recipe if you don’t have a zester, but this seemingly insignificant ingredient can make a world of a difference.
Why skip the aromatic citrus zest if you can zest a lemon using the most ordinary cheese grater?
How do you zest a lemon with a cheese grater? When zesting a lemon with a cheese grater, make sure not to put too much pressure on the lemon to avoid grating the bitter pith along with the yellow skin. Make sure you have a secure grip on both the grater and lemon.
In this article, we will give you step-by-step instructions on how to zest a lemon with both a handheld and box cheese grater.
We will also give you a few lemon zesting tips and teach you how to zest a lemon if don’t have a cheese grater either.
Lemon zest is the outer yellow layer of the fruit. It is key to remove only the yellow layer of the fruit, as the white pith underneath is rather bitter.
Lemon zest is a magical ingredient that adds the freshness and aroma of the lemon without adding acidity and tartness.
Lemon zest is widely used in the making of desserts and sweet treats. It is also a finishing touch to numerous hot dishes, as it is both refreshing and adds color.
If you are not much of a cook and don’t usually add such refined touches to your dishes as lemon zest, you may not have a zester in your kitchen tools collection.
But you surely have a grater somewhere. Can you zest a lemon using a grater? You surely can. But while zesters and graters are interchangeable for some cooking tasks and have similarities, they do certainly have a few differences.
Zester Vs Grater – What’s the Difference?
Zesters are common lemon zesting tools. You can find zesters of several different types.
A popular type of handheld zester is an approximately 4″ long tool with a metal head. The slightly curved head has a few holes.
The rims of the holes are sharp and as you drag the zester over the skin of the citrus fruit, you get thin ribbons of the aromatic peel.
A zester used by professional cooks and home cooks is the microplane zester. Microplane is actually a registered trademark and a company that makes various grating tools. Their name has become synonymous with the product itself.
Many brands have come out with microplane zesters inspired by the original Microplane design.
Using a microplane tool to zest a lemon is quick and easy. Unlike handheld graters, microplane zesters zest much finer.
You hold the microplane with one hand and move the lemon back and forth over it for a beautifully zested lemon peel.
Graters, on the other hand, are tools covered in holes with slightly raised cutting edges. Depending on their design, graters may have different sized holes on each side for different purposes.
The main difference between a zester and a grater is that the holes on the grater are larger.
When trying to zest a lemon or other citruses with a grater you may find it a little harder to avoid the white part as the grater cuts deeper than a zester.
How to Zest a Lemon With a Cheese Grater
You can zest a lemon with both a handheld grater and a box grater. Pulling out the hefty box grater for a small amount of lemon zest is not very convenient.
But when you don’t have a citrus zester, a microplane, or a handheld cheese grater, a handheld grater is the next best option.
Here’s how to do it:
- Wash the lemon thoroughly and pat dry it. Wet lemons may be slippery, which will make the zesting process dangerous.
- If there are small specs on the peel, use a knife to remove them.
- Hold the grater in one hand and place its end on the cutting board. Keep the grater at an angle to ease the process.
- Hold the lemon in the other hand. Make sure you have a secure grip on it.
- Run the fruit down the grater as smoothly as you can. Don’t push it too hard onto the grater to avoid deep cuts. You don’t want to get any of the white layer with it.
Repeat the process until you have zested the yellow part of the peel all around the fruit.
Zesting a Lemon With a Box Grater
You can find an old-fashioned box grater in every kitchen. While you may not be a fan of this bulky kitchen tool, it is a secret weapon when you need lemon zest but you don’t have a zester.
Here’s how you zest a lemon with a box grater:
- Wash the lemon and pat it dry.
- Find the side of the grater with the smallest holes.
- Put the grater on the cutting board and hold it firmly.
- Get a good grip on the lemon and move it back and forth over the grater. Pay attention to the placement of your fingers to avoid cuts.
- Rotate the lemon to grate only the yellow coating.
Box graters usually come with a side with small raspy holes that are perfect for zesting a lemon.
3 Lemon Zesting Tips
To help you get the most out of your lemons, we’ve listed a few tips on zesting a lemon for the best results.
1. Use Organic Lemons
Lemons that are not organic have a wax coating to make the lemons look good and last longer. But due to the wax coating, it is not recommended to use non-organic lemons for desserts and dishes that call for lemon zest.
It is best to use organic lemons when you need lemon zest to top your dishes, as these are typically not waxed.
If non-organic waxed lemons are all you have at home, you will need to dewax them before zesting. The wax is edible, but it is surely not a pleasant experience to eat waxy lemon zest or have the wax melted over a hot dish.
To dewax the lemons, put the lemons in a strainer or colander and pour boiling hot water over them. Scrub the lemons with a vegetable scrub brush to quickly get rid of the non-organic wax coating.
2. Always Zest Before Juicing
If the recipe calls for lemon zest and lemon juice, always zest the lemon first. Trying to zest a squeezed lemon is a tough task. It will be hard to avoid zesting the bitter white layer underneath the bright yellow peel.
Additionally, you won’t be able to get as much lemon zest as you would with a lemon that isn’t squeezed, as you would have easy access to the entire surface area of the fruit.
Don’t cut lemons before zesting either. As you’d imagine, zesting lemon wedges would be a rather tedious task.
3. Freeze Lemon Zest
If you need lots of lemon juice for a recipe, don’t let the aromatic bright skin of lemons to go to waste. Zest all the lemons before you use them, quick-freeze the zest and use it within 6 months.
Zest the lemons and spread the zest on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Place the tray in the freezer and take it out only when the zest is well-frozen.
Doing this is crucial if you want to prevent the small yellow pieces from clumping.
Transfer the frozen lemon zest into heavy-duty freezer bags and store them in the freezer. If you use a lot of lemon zest, having lemon zest in your freezer at all times will save you time while cooking.
You can also freeze whole or sliced lemons for later zesting.
What Else Can You Use?
If you don’t have a zester or a grater but your dish needs the freshness and the aroma of lemon zest, don’t worry. There are other ways of zesting a lemon without a zester.
Use a vegetable peeler. Place the vegetable peeler on one end of the lemon pushing it very lightly into the fruit.
If you push too deep, you will end up with bitter lemon peel. Pull the peeler down to the other end of the fruit to make a thin slice of lemon peel. Chop the peel finely and use the lemon zest in your desired recipe.
You can do the same thing using a knife. It is best to use a paring knife to peel the lemon. Paring knives are more suitable for this task, as they are small and have a short blade that is ideal for such intricate tasks as peeling a lemon.
Cut one end of the lemon to be able to place it securely on a cutting board. Hold the lemon with one hand and cut a strip of the peel, making sure to not go too deep into the fruit.
Cut the lemon peel into strips and then chop it finely.