Imagine eating delicious, saucy, falling-apart pulled pork – and then discovering that it was not pork at all, but the impressively versatile jackfruit.
Yes, the same tropical fruit that becomes meltingly sweet as it fully ripens. If you thought cauliflower was versatile then you might want to join the growing band of chefs and home cooks who have shown how many ways it can be used, from a vegan “pulled pork” (think tacos and burgers with slaw) to condiments and desserts.
You might have seen jackfruit before – in fact, we’d wager you definitely have. Whether wandering through Chinatown, through stores supplying goods from the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, or even the odd Harris Farm, you might well have caught sight of a green-yellowish, giant misshapen lump covered with dangerous-looking spikes. Ringing any bells? Well, that’s jackfruit.
Admittedly, it’s a bit of a job to open it up. Chef O Tama Carey (ex-Berta and now running Sydney restaurant, Lankan Filling Station) explains, “It’s time-consuming to prepare – it’s got that big massive skin that you have to hack through, and then you have to peel all the pulp away, and then you get to the flesh and you have to take the seed out as well.”
Carey is half-Sri Lankan, and Sri Lanka – along with India – is probably the country most well-known for its jackfruit recipes. “In Sri Lanka, they use it at three different ages,” explains Carey, “The youngest version is still quite unripe, and they slice it really finely and make a mallum.” (A mallum is like a Sri Lankan form of stir-fry or sambal.)
When it reaches its next stage, jackfruit gets its most celebrated moment – as a truly passable alternative to pork. “When it’s a bit older, more like a teenager as opposed to a baby,” says Carey, “they slice it up and make it into a curry, and that’s called polos.” With its firm texture, the meat flakes apart like a slow-cooked piece of pork shoulder. Its neutral, not yet sweet, flavour works brilliantly with strong flavoured sauces, as, like cauliflower, it soaks them all up.
It’s only at its final ripening stage that the jackfruit actually becomes sweet. “The older version is the proper ripe, sweet version and that’s a bit of a fancy delicacy,” explains Carey, “you go to someone’s house and they whip out some jackfruit for you to snack on because you’re a special guest.” In Sri Lanka you see ladies on the roadside freely slashing-up jackfruit with terrifyingly sharp cleavers, selecting the best glossy, yellow lozenges to go into plastic bags to sell to locals and tourists as they go. It’s saccharine-sweet, like eating melting honey candies.
For Lankan Filling Station, Carey has been working on an achcharu recipe (Sri Lankan pickled vegetables) using jackfruit – and when the time is right, she’ll put it on the menu.
“The older version is the proper ripe, sweet version and that’s a bit of a fancy delicacy.”
Carey isn’t the only chef in Australia falling in love with this versatile fruit. In Brisbane at vegan burger-joint Moo-Free Burgers they’re making jackfruit ‘pulled pork’, dousing the unripe fruit in vegan-friendly barbecue sauce. It’s so close to the real thing that owner Johnny Tabet fooled a whole team of testers.
“I invited six of my friends who are not vegan to taste it and I didn’t tell them it was jackfruit,” he says, “Five out of the six couldn’t believe it was jackfruit; they thought it was real pork.” For this he uses canned green jackfruit, which is much easier to find than the fresh, unripe sort. He stocks the cans at Charlie’s Vegan Pantry in Brisbane (which he also runs), and you can find it at select supermarkets - even some Woolworths stores.
“I think people are now looking at, at least one day a week, not eating meat,” says Tabet, “and I think jackfruit is coming in because you can do so many things with it.” It’s grown in the Northern Territory and in Tropical North Queensland and is in season from June–April. If you can get hold of it fresh, get the cleaver out and give it a go. Thankfully though, the canned version – be it sweet or green – will hold you (and the rest of Australia) off when fresh isn't available.
*Due to the impacts of COVID-19 some of the businesses mentioned in this article may not be currently operational.
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