(Or not the king, but a prince, of fruit)
Let me pose to you a theory I recently overheard, a conversation in which the jackfruit was being called “the new kale”. I remember earlier this year that the entertainment umbrella E! announced that the jackfruit was the hot new vegetable of 2013. Being called the new kale gifts you with the story arch that suddenly you will pop up everywhere, health magazines and image proponents will endlessly hail your praises, and that while once you may have had a tiny unattended bin in the more shadowy recesses of the market, finally you are more available, with a shiny new spotlight for your display. This was potentially how I ran into a jackfruit (jakfruit) in my neighborhood Dillon’s food store a couple of months ago. Surprised, I took its picture, stepping back to allow for the enormity of its bulk, and sent it to my significant Ben. “Why not?” replied my inbox. So, before the jackfruit became the new slogan for Urban Outfitter t-shirts and the choice de rigueur for boutique cuisine, we decided to investigate what this jackfruit craze is all about.
The jackfruit is a member of the mulberry family. Maybe a giant prickly uncle, it is the largest fruit in the world to grow on trees. Like many family dynamics, the jackfruit is a great example of how some things are praised highly in one area and go to waste in others. Considered in some areas as an invasive species, the cuisines of India, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam feature jackfruit prominently and is highly sought after by its international fans. Like its brother fruit, the durian “The King of Fruit”, it is a polarizing food, seemingly either loved or hated by those who encounter it. Durian is notoriously banned from many public transportation services in southeast Asia for its distinctive odor. It is common to find “No Guns. No Smoking. No Durian” signs posted to the windows of cabs, subways, and waiting rooms. An alternative: “No eating or drinking. No durian. Fasten seatbelts.”
In full confession, I had actually encountered both of these fruits years earlier in a pho restaurant in Oklahoma City. Sitting with some companions in Pho Cuong, the four of us undertook some version of pulling straws to see who would be ordering the jackfruit smoothie and who would be ordering the durian. Drawing jackfruit, I was not sure what to expect, but the word on the street is that the popular candy Juicy Fruit in jackfruit flavored, a mixture of apple, pineapple, banana and mango. Durian, on the other hand, has been described as “Smelling like hell, but tasting like heaven.” Unfortunately I do not remember a sweet refreshing juicy fruit flavored experience, but at least it wasn’t me who drew durian. What did it taste like? That is hard to say, this occurring over a decade ago. What it did seem to taste like is something that never got reordered during any of our weekly visits for the next five years. That being said, jackfruit has come a long way from shakes in asian restaurants. It was time to give the prince of fruit, the trendiest fruit of the year, another spin.
I lugged this huge prickly fruit under my arm through Dillons. These husky buddies grown up to 4 feet in diameter, reaching around 80 pounds, are covered in spikes, and exude a sticky “latex”. This substance, when heated, doubles as an adhesive for mending pottery as well as a hole stopper in buckets and even to caulk the seams in boats. So yes it is intense. It will also stain your clothes. It will also stick to everything on the conveyor belt and render it impossible to select bills from your wallet to offer as acceptable currency to the raised eyebrow on the other side of the transaction.
I finally wrangled the jackfruit home for carving. Significant Ben eyed the jackfruit and the butcher knife. The video I had watched earlier in the day starred a militia-type man with a machete demonstrating the process, but in this house a humble butcher knife and ladybug apron was going to have to do. The obvious question, considering that these mighty balls of spikes hang precariously under trees, was how many jackfruit deaths occur annually. In the shocking void created by the absence of totals on this query, came this nugget, a proverb, “Jackfruit fell, Rabbit died”.
Gloves are recommended due to the spiky exterior that made the soft underside of my arms sting shifting it around my other groceries through the market. Begloved, I hacked this thing in two. The latex emitted from the fruit upon opening. It is good to note now, as I wish I had before I initiated this battle, that it is common knowledge in the jackfruit crowd to rub vegetable oil on your hands and utensils to form a protective barrier when handling the prince of fruits. Also do not cover the knife handle in oil. Just the blade. Just FYI. No, I did not have to learn that the hard way.
Inside the jackfruit. The jackfruit is comprised of about 35-40 edible pieces. The rest is separated and disposed of. Once cut in half, the core is removed, the flesh is separated. Left within is a crazy mess of a fibrous ribbon or “rag” and buttery yellow pods (also called bulbs, or cutely under these circumstances, “fruitlets”). These scented bulbs surround large brown seeds which are also separated out are often kept for baking or roasting like a chestnut.
Once the jackfruit is cut and cleaned, there are several avenues to explore concerning what to do with your remaining bowls and bowls of jackfruit flesh. Popular preparations involving our fruit include custards, ice creams, deserts, cakes, curries, desserts, liquor, chutney, fruit leather, jam, salads, and flour. In Chinese medicine, jackfruit is regarded as both an aphrodisiac and a hangover tonic, which is a particularly thoughtful double duty. Nicknamed gacch-patha (tree mutton), jackfruit is ascending in our current climate as a leading meat substitute popular with vegetarians, vegans, regular foodies, and the gluten-free crowd, also earning it the term “vegetable meat” and used in tacos, enchiladas, and barbeque dishes. Here I would like to address some confusion you may or may not have had regarding the fruit/vegetable interchange. Apparently it is a marketing situation. Shree Padre from the ‘Prospects and Opportunities in Jackfruit’ seminar held at the Jackfruit Mela last year offered that “Considering its varied utility and rich content, jackfruits should be promoted as a vegetable.”
We decided upon two things. First, that no matter what we made this night could ever use that much jackfruit. We would start small. Let’s make ice cream! Basically, you can make anything into an ice cream. The end result was very mellow. Kind of like an almondy mango ice cream that smells a little weird. Because, like tofu, this fruit/vegetable seems to take on the flavors of that which surround it (barbeque sauce, sugars, spices etc.) it seems that whether or not you like this scent will be a contributing factor as to whether you enjoy the jackfruit experience or not. I had plenty of time to ponder this as the scent invaded my freezer for days, drifting from the remainder of the ice cream. Not the most subtle scent. Significant Ben’s verdict brings us to a second mallu proverb: “If necessary, a jackfruit will bloom.” If necessary. Only if.
On the other hand, I made a halo-halo (a pretty, yummy filippino desert, the bento box of shaved ice) with jackfruit that was pretty incredible, and the Pear and Jackfruit Tingle from NYC’s Betel is fantastic, a blend of kaffir lime vodka, chambord, jackfruit, asian pear, orange juice, and sprite. How good does that sound?
Here is a recipe for jackfruit tacos you may like to try out.
2 cans green jackfruit, rinsed well (you can purchase green jackfruit in most Asian, or Indian markets, make sure it is only in water, or brine)
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon chipotle powder
½ teaspoon onion granules
¼ teaspoon coriander powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
3 cloves garlic minced
½ teaspoon black pepper
Sea salt to taste
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil (can also just use veggie stock instead)
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup vegetable stock, low sodium
1 ½ teaspoon oregano, fresh minced
¼ cup orange juice
1 lime juiced
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 bay leaf
1 chiplote chile, in adobo sauce, minced
Sea salt to taste
Your favorite salsa and toppings
1. Strain and rinse the jackfruit well. Place in mixing bowl.
2. Add the chipotle, paprika, onion powder, coriander, cinnamon, garlic, and black pepper on the jackfruit, and shred pieces roughly while mixing. I prefer to allow this to sit and absorb the spices for at least an hour to overnight before cooking. Don’t worry about the small seeds, they will cook down and soften if you leave them in.
3. In small Dutch oven, or shallow pot, bring to medium heat. Add the oil, and diced onions and stir until caramelized. Add the jackfruit, and stir for a couple minutes until it begins to stick.
4. Continuing on medium heat, add in the stock, orange, lime, maple, chipotle, and sea salt. Bring to a simmer, (while this is simmering, break up the jackfruit by using a potato masher or a fork) then put on low-medium heat. Put on lid and continue to cook for 20 minutes, opening lid frequently to stir and break up larger pieces of jackfruit, ensuring it does not stick. Cook until all liquid has evaporated, stirring continuously. This is the sign that its done and ready to eat!
5. Once jackfruit is cooked serve on a tortilla, and top with avocado, your favorite hot salsa, and cilantro.
(recipe and image courtesy of www.chadsarno.com and www.olivesfordinner.com)