So I had to know, does it really taste like pulled pork, or was the internet just pulling my leg? I’m a meat eater, but barbecue happens to be one of my favorite foods, so I decided to test out the jackfruit version for myself. Here’s how it went.
PREPARING FRESH JACKFRUIT
There are basically two kinds of jackfruit available in the US, fresh and canned. I used both in my recipes. Fresh green jackfruit requires more prep time than the canned version, and it’s a bit harder to find. I finally found some at Whole Foods after foraging through the produce aisles of several supermarkets and searching at several outdoor markets in New York City, where I live.
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The first thing I noticed about it is that it stinks. When I unwrapped the freshly sliced fruit (you typically buy it in slices, not as a whole fruit), my kitchen filled with the pungent aroma of something akin to decaying garbage. The smell was so strong I thought there might be something rancid in the waste bin, but no, it was just the jackfruit.
Slicing through the spiky rind is the first step to getting it ready to cook. The fresh fruit is as gooey as it is stinky. It’s a good idea to oil up your knife, otherwise the sap will stick to the blade. Some cooks even recommend covering your countertops and cutting board with parchment paper while cutting to avoid major messes. I didn’t do that—and therefore I did not avoid a major mess.
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Next, you’ll need to extract the seeds and then separate the flesh. By the time I soldiered through this task, chunks of smelly jackfruit littered my countertops. With the first battle won, I discovered the pulpy center, which moderately resembles cooked chicken meat. Don’t let appearances fool you, raw jackfruit is unfit for human consumption. The fruit is too rubbery to actually chew, so you have to boil it for ten to twenty minutes until it’s tender.
Once the jackfruit has been boiled, it’s ready to add to any recipe. If you buy canned jackfruit (definitely the easier option), all you have to do is rinse and dry the fruit before you start cooking. It’s available in either brine or water, sort of like canned tuna. Jackfruit in brine yields a slightly salty, citrusy taste. One might say it’s a cross between a semi tasteless mushroom and a semi tasteless artichoke. However, jackfruit in water seems to be the favorite among most vegan pulled pork recipes because of its nondescript flavor and lack of preservatives.
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COOKING WITH JACKFRUIT
The most important thing to remember about cooking with jackfruit is that it doesn’t really taste like meat. So why are there so many jackfruit pulled pork recipes? Because once it’s smothered in barbecue sauce, it’s virtually impossible for untrained eyes to tell the differences between the prepared jackfruit and barbecued pulled pork or chicken. That’s where the similarities end.
Unlike tender pork meat that has spent hours over a smoker or in a slow cooker to achieve it’s mouthwatering flavor, jackfruit just doesn’t have any real flavor. The fruit is simply a vehicle for a well-made sauce, so creating a delicious dressing is key. After sifting through dozens of vegan websites, I finally decided on two recipes: one made for real pulled pork and the other designed specifically for jackfruit from the Minimalist Baker.
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My first pulled pork dish using jackfruit in brine came out tasting too acidic (yes, I accidentally bought the wrong kind!). The ingredients didn’t harmonize and the mixture needed adjustments. Even though I drained and rinsed the fruit, I still wound up with a pulled pork dish that tasted like the canning juices. It looks good, but the pictures are deceiving.
The second concoction using the fresh fruit was a bit more sweet and delicate, and the ingredients better suited the jackfruit. After a couple of tries, I discovered the power of improvisation. Sauce is a forgivable substance, and you can reshape the taste until it comes out perfect (or in this case, passable). I altered both of the original sauce recipes, adding more mayonnaise and less sugar. In the end they were...edible.
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So was it worth it? Not really. If I’m going to put a lot of time into preparing a pulled pork dish, I’d rather go with the real thing instead of standing in a kitchen all day covered in jackfruit seeds and goo. Jackfruit pulled pork is not much more than a mildly flavorless pulp covered in barbecue sauce. Next time I want a hearty vegetarian meal, I’ll make a salad.