I don't eat meat. I also don't eat fake meat. I also don't expect you to care about what I eat, or to change your own diet because of what I have to say. But I will note that the meat-free market largely lends itself to the development of super fake foodstuffs -- oddly textured, unnaturally formed, and artificially flavored, of course. These foods have never struck me as being particularly healthy, nor conceptually vegetarian, nor even a little bit appetizing.
But! When real, whole, minimally processed foods are adapted into recipes in place of meat (read as: not isolated currently trendy protein or hydrolyzed whatever), I'm willing to be a bit more open.
A few weeks ago I fell in love with the Nopales Like Home sandwich at Braggs Factory Diner. The sandwich, which features smokey barbacoa-style jackfruit, was my first introduction to this strange-yet-delightful fruit-cum-meat substitute. Since then, I have seen the item pop up on a few other local restaurants' menus, which makes me think we'll be seeing a lot more of it in coming months.
The Jackfruit is not a fruit you would want to run into in a dark alleyway. First of all, it's huge. Like, double the size of a watermelon huge. And it is covered in strange, pimple-ish little bumps. And it doesn't seem to have a discernible shape, besides "vaguely ovular" and "real lumpy."
I was inspired by that Barbacoa sandwich, and drove to four different grocery stores looking for a fresh Jackfruit to call my own. This was much easier said than done. Warning: Whole Foods does not stock these giant pimple fruits. At least, not fresh ones.
Feeling dejected and super hangry, I made my way to a place I knew would have it. I imagined myself working some shady deal with Braggs' Jackfruit dealer, and smuggling the fruit away under my jacket. As it turns out, Jackfruit is much easier to find than I thought.
Liam Murtagh of Braggs Factory Diner agrees that vegetarian cuisine doesn't have to be the Tofurky-ridden catastrophe that most of America envisions it to be, which is part of why the Diner relies very little on processed meat substitutes. A classically trained chef and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Murtagh prefers to get creative with his dishes - and with his substitutions. He took some time out of the cafe's busy brunch rush to teach me a thing or two about jackfruit.
In its "young" or unripe form, jackfruit is fairly flavorless. When it ripens, it becomes traditionally tropical in flavor. In order to keep a steady supply of the stuff, Braggs uses canned Young Jackfruit. On its own the young fruit tastes similar to an artichoke heart (complete with slightly squeaky texture), with maybe just a whisper of papaya-esque sweetness.
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Jackfruits possess a number of peanut-sized seeds. Murtagh recommends removing these from the fruit prior to cooking. These seeds are apparently very rich in protein, but are coated in a latex-like skin that is absolutely unappetizing. The fruit pulp is also chock-full of vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
The young fruit is fairly bland, which makes it perfect for soaking up the delicious seasoning of barbacoa. The tender fruit also shreds easily, which is part of why many vegetarians use it in lieu of shredded beef or pork.
To try it for yourself, Murtagh recommends paying a visit to Mekong Supermarket. They also sell canned ripe jackfruit, in tasty syrup.