What the World Needs Now Is Jackfruit BBQ
Climbing the ladder of meat alternatives, you go from tofu to Vegemite to tempeh, past that thing that calls itself “beyond meat” (mm, strips!), to hummus, and higher. Somewhere past falafel, the air thins, colors brighten, and you begin to feel euphoric. That’s where the Yotam Ottolenghi salads live. Your eyes pop, your mouth waters, but you don’t stop there. You keep climbing, ever higher, and now you smell it: just a wisp of smoke at first, then clouds of it, a haze, a fog–no, a blanket, of pulled pork. It’s barbecued jackfruit.
Purdue University’s horticulture database calls the jackfruit “an excellent example of a food prized in some areas of the world and allowed to go to waste in others.” Europe and North America have historically been among those “others,” probably because the jackfruit is no Georgia peach. Purdue again: “When fully ripe, the unopened jackfruit emits a strong disagreeable odor, resembling that of decayed onions.” It’s also bigger than your head.
But stay your judgment.
Split open a green jackfruit and you’ll discover melonlike pulp that smells like pineapple crossed with banana. Break it down, seed it, sauce it up and bake it off and you’ve got another thing entirely: an uncannily porky shred that, rolled up into a burrito, could easily outsell all the other vegan snacks at the festival put together, man. What sets it apart from other meat-imitators is its porkiness. And what makes otherwise-bland jackfruit porky is its texture. That’s a big deal.
As they work together to create sustainable alternatives, culinary science and agriculture are challenged by the sheer complexity of meat as a food. You may have heard the food writer Corby Kummer talk about this in a recent interview on NPR. Kummer’s piece about the fake-meat industry in the MIT Technology Review had gotten him thinking about meat, he told listeners of All Things Considered. “It’s got fat. It’s got fiber. It’s got gristle. It’s got that delicious stuff by the bone. It’s got brown bits on the outside. Think of trying to mock all of those up and glue them together. It’s not easy.”
Jackfruit can’t necessarily stand in for sausage, much less bacon or, say, tenderloin. But when you see, smell, and taste it side-by-side with $6-a-pound local-chain bbq, you’ll realize that pulled pork’s yumminess is about 60 percent texture and 20 percent sauce. The jackfruit version lacks only flavor-building fat. (And don’t you just know that somewhere, a chef is searing the stuff off in coconut oil in an attempt to hit the vegan jackpot.)
In the interest of sustainability, we made our Earth Day bbq with canned jackfruit. Though jackfruit grows in Florida, it’s hard to find fresh in smaller US cities and ones further north. The canned product, which for this purpose you want brined or in water rather than in sweet syrup, abounds in many Asian, Mexican, and Caribbean groceries, however, at save-the-planet prices.
For the sauce, we’re following a recommendation by the mom of KaTom’s marketing lead and adding rhubarb to help bind the jackfruit while in the oven, but you don’t have to. When we made this for Earth Day, we threw together a relatively unadventurous sauce knowing it wouldn’t taste like restaurant/roadside bbq sauce and not caring–as long as it was deep.
Hey, didn’t The Cars sing that, back in the Cenozoic era? “Cause when you’re standin’ oh, so near/I kinda lose my mind”? That’s certainly true of this stuff. Besides, what it lacks in melty brown umami, it makes up for in moral superiority. Jackfruit bbq, “you’re just what I needed.”
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups sliced rhubarb, fresh or frozen (thawed)
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 20-oz. cans green jackfruit in water or brine
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 1/2 tsp. Liquid Smoke
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Drain and rinse the jackfruit, remove the core, and cut each piece in half. Remove the seeds.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until starting to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the jackfruit, rhubarb, ketchup, sugar, vinegar, spices, Worcestershire sauce, and liquid smoke. Stir until the jackfruit and rhubarb are evenly covered. Pour off 1/2 cup of the liquid and reserve it.
4. Add the vegetable broth to the skillet, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes until all liquid is absorbed. Use a spatula to mash and divide the jackfruit until it looks similar in appearance to pulled pork. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and roast it for 20 minutes.
5. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and pour the reserved liquid over the jackfruit and rhubarb, ensuring even coverage. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste.
6. Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast for another 10-15 minutes or until the jackfruit is lightly browned.