If you’ve been in an H-E-B produce section lately, you’ve probably seen them. They look like something monstrous left over from a 1950s sci-fi flick, such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” where enormous pods threaten to take over civilization.
The sign up above says it’s something called jackfruit. But it might help if you knew what to do with it, even beyond the short list of directions at the market.
So, let’s start at the beginning.
Jackfruit is grown in Southeast Asia, and each fruit can weigh any where from 10 to 100 pounds. A single tree can bear dozens of fruit, which makes it ideal for feeding starving masses, that is, if they know what to do with it, too.
If you’re shopping for a jackfruit, look for one with no outside bruises or cuts. It should also have a fairly distinct aroma, which will become stronger when you cut into it.
If you buy a jackfruit that is too green, it will ooze a sticky latex, according to an Australian group, The Sub-Tropical Fruit Club of Qld: “The quantity of latex decreases as the fruit ripens. Try to cut a fruit that is green and you will have latex all over you. Cut into an over ripe fruit and there is almost no latex. If you do get the sap on your hands you can easily get it off using lanoline soap, the kind they use in industry.”
If you have time, cut a few gashes into the fruit a couple of days before you prepare it and let the latex ooze out on its own.
It has a rough skin that’s fairly solid, so you’ll need a strong knife — or machete — to break into it. Don’t use your best kitchen knife for that job. Once inside, you’ll find strands of pale yellow fruit flesh surrounding more rock-hard seeds. An equally hard core can be found at the center. So, you have to skin it, seed it and core it before you can enjoy it. Believe me, this takes a little work. And it creates no small amount of waste.
I have to confess that I didn’t buy a whole jackfruit. There was a cut piece in the refrigerated section, which still weighed about 8 pounds, which was more than enough for one person.
But I learned almost immediately that while you’re working up the jackfruit, it has an overripe, almost-fetid aroma — sort of like durian light, if you’ve ever smelled that fruity horror.
You can eat the fruit raw and some have made jerky of it, but the texture might seem a little tough for either.
Unless you’re used to it, jackfruit might be best encountered first after sauteing it. In this way, it can be used in both savory and sweet dishes.
For savory dishes, you could try it in your favorite stir-fry as a substitute for tofu or chicken. You could also try it in a vegan barbecue dish. All you have to do is season the fruit with your favorite barbecue rub and saute it for a few minutes. Then cover the fruit with barbecue sauce and let them cook together over a medium to medium-low heat for at least 30 minutes. The end result was supposed to taste like pulled pork — at least to vegans. How many of them have been eating pulled pork lately is anybody’s guess. It certainly looks like pulled pulled in a certain light, but the end result proved to be incredibly sweet, as cooking released the fruit’s natural sugars, but it was also cloy. So, proceed with caution.
Perhaps you’d prefer to try the fruit in a sweeter context. I first tasted jackfruit back in Port Charlotte, Florida, where a local ice cream maker decided to showcase several flavors of his native land, the Philippines. His menu included a purple sweet potato called ube as well as jackfruit.
To get started on this side of the fruit’s personality, I sauteed it in sugar (4:1 ratio of fruit to sugar) for about 30 minutes. When I was ready to use it, the fruit went into a food processor where it was rendered into a thick puree. I froze most of it, but I used a cup for jackfruit ice cream.
This time, the fruit showed off its best flavors clean and strong. Even a few people who were dubious about trying the ice cream ate their fill after having a taste.
Jackfruit-Peach Ice Cream
1 cup jackfruit puree
1 cup finely chopped fresh peach
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
To make the jackfruit puree, saute 1 cup jackfruit with 1/4 cup sugar for over medium-high heat for about 30 minutes or until soft and a syrup forms in the pan. Cool.
When ready to make the ice cream, puree the jackfruit in a food processor. Chop the peach and add to the jackfruit puree. Chill.
In a saucepan or bowl with a lid, mix coconut milk, cream and sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the jackfruit mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Freeze according to ice cream manufacturer’s instructions.
Makes a little more than 1 quart ice cream.
From John Griffin