Why This Recipe Works
- Macerating strawberries and lemon zest draws out the strawberries’s juices and the zest’s natural oils, resulting in a more flavorful lemonade.
- This no-cook technique dissolves the sugar without the need for whisking.
On a recent visit to a cocktail bar in Brooklyn, I was served a strawberry lemonade that was so nauseatingly sweet that I choked on my first sip. I’m not a big drinker, which means that I’ve suffered through far too many poorly made nonalcoholic beverage options. It’s bad enough when a basic lemonade is out of balance or made from concentrate, but it’s even worse when a drink like strawberry lemonade, which suggests a higher level of “housemade” effort, tastes like artificially-flavored candy. If you’re going to the trouble of making a compound fruit drink that marries the best of strawberries and lemons, shouldn’t it taste like the best of both?
My ideal strawberry lemonade is a refreshing beverage that’s just acidic enough to make me pucker, bracingly tart with enough sweetness to soften the tang’s sharp edges and send me back for more. On top of that, I want layers of aroma and flavor—not just lemon juice but the fragrance of lemon oil from the zest, and a generously ripe and jammy infusion of strawberries that tastes of the best summer fruit.
Key Techniques for the Most Flavorful Strawberry Lemonade
Making strawberry lemonade isn’t hard, but there are a few things you can do to make it truly stellar. Most strawberry lemonade recipes will have you whisk puréed and strained strawberries together with lemon juice, sugar, and water, which is a solid method that yields a pretty delicious drink when the ratios are correct. But with just a bit more time and effort, you can make your ingredients work a little harder for you: By zesting your lemons and tossing that zest with the strawberries and sugar, you can pull out the flavorful oils in the lemon peel and the juices from the fruit. It’s a technique similar to the one Stella uses in her recipes for ultra-fresh limeade and fresh lemon syrup, where she juices the citrus, cuts the peel into 1-inch pieces, then macerates the rinds with sugar.
As the lemon zest and strawberries sit, you’ll notice that the sugar—broken down by the acids in the citrus peel and strawberries—will eventually dissolve completely. What’s left is an aromatic liquid with a subtle, pleasant bitterness from the lemon oils. It’s not unlike oleo-saccharum, a syrup that’s made by tossing lemon peels in sugar and pounding the mixture to extract the skin’s oils.
According to Serious Eats contributor Michael Dietsch, oleo-saccharum was frequently used in the 19th century to lend beverages “an elegantly citrus flavor and aroma.” There’s no pounding of lemon peels and sugar here, but the idea is the same: macerate the peels until they begin to release their oils. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it technique that requires no stirring or turning on the stove, yet produces an even more fragrant lemonade.
Here, we take that method one step further by steeping the macerated zest and strawberries in lemon juice and water to infuse the lemonade with even more flavor before straining out the solids. What you get is a refreshing concentrate redolent of berries and citrus that you can dilute with water and ice as needed. Is it the quickest strawberry lemonade recipe ever? No. But it’s one of the most flavorful, and all it’s really asking of you is a bit more time.
For the most refreshing and flavorful strawberry lemonade, macerate your fruit and lemon zest.
- For the Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate:
- 3/4 pound strawberries (12 ounces; 340g), hulled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces; 200g)
- 1 1/2 pounds lemons (5 to 6 medium lemons), zested and halved
- 12 ounces cold water (1 1/2 cups; 350ml)
- For Serving:
- 5 cups cold still or sparkling water, plus extra water as needed
- Lemon slices for garnish (optional)
- Strawberry slices for garnish (optional)
For the Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate: In a large nonreactive mixing bowl, toss the strawberries with granulated sugar and lemon zest. Refrigerate, stirring with a silicone spatula every 30 minutes, until fruit has macerated and sugar has completely dissolved, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, juice the zested lemon halves (You should have about 1 cup of lemon juice). Refrigerate juice in an airtight container until ready to use.
When strawberries and lemon zest have macerated, stir in 3/4 cup (180ml) reserved lemon juice and 1 1/2 cups (355ml) water and refrigerate for another 30 minutes. Strain through a nonreactive fine-mesh strainer or piece of cheesecloth into a glass or ceramic container (you should have about 2 1/2 cups concentrate total). Cover and refrigerate the strawberry lemonade concentrate until ready to use.
For Serving: Pour strawberry lemonade concentrate into a large pitcher. Stir in 5 cups cold water and garnish with lemon slices and strawberry slices, if using. Dilute with additional water and remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice to taste, if needed (see notes). Serve over ice.
Silicone spatula, cheesecloth or nonreactive fine-mesh strainer
The ratio of the strawberry lemonade concentrate to water is based on my personal taste preference to create my ideal balanced sweet and tart drink. Adjust with additional water and lemon juice to your own taste level, keeping in mind the lemonade will dilute further when served over ice.
To make one serving of finished strawberry lemonade, combine 1/2 cup strawberry lemonade concentrate with 1 cup of cold water, garnish, adjust with water and lemon juice to taste, and serve over ice.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The strawberry lemonade concentrate can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.