Don’t let the jackfruit drop
When fruits fall, they do different things. Some splatter. Others crack. A few may bounce. Some roll down the beach and float across the ocean. The durian inflicts severe flesh wounds.
But one fruit simply shakes the Earth: The jackfruit, Artocarpus heterophyllus, a distant relative of the dainty mulberry and the largest tree fruit in the world. A Southeast Asia native and the national fruit of Bangladesh, this behemoth can grow to 4 feet long and weigh 80 pounds, though watermelon-size is about average. Relatively little known in America, the jackfruit may be a familiar sight to those who frequent Asian specialty markets, like Seafood City Supermarket (6051 Mack Road), which regularly carries jackfruit and recently had fresh ones from Mexico for $1.29 per pound. That’s $15 or so a fruit.
So what’s in it for you? Several pounds of sweet and slightly rubbery flesh that tastes like a cross between pineapple and dried mango. You also get a pound or so of edible, starchy seeds, and a heap of shaggy material often called “rag” that, in Asia, is sheared from the rind and added to savory soups or stir-fries. While the flesh can be bought pre-prepped, that’s no fun; buying the whole fruit provides a first-rate dinner-table centerpiece plus the excitement of butchering before guests. Warning: The thick, springy hide exudes a wicked, gluelike sap that clings to skin and steel and can scarcely be removed with anything less than fire. Clever tip: Lather your hands and equipment with cooking oil before attacking your jackfruit. Slice it in half, then into quarters—and, before proceeding, have yourself a good look at the cross-sectioned physiology of the beast. Fascinating.
Finally, pry the fleshy arils from the rag and pop out the seeds, which can be boiled and eaten like potatoes. The arils are sweet and spicy, like pineapple, and can be eaten raw, dried or fried. Jackfruit flesh is fragrant, too—a potpourri of tangy, tropical scents—and, very importantly, will provide you with a strong piece of vocabulary for future wine-tasting occasions.