Jackfruit is a plant that can mimic the texture of meat. A large, greenish fruit, jackfruit has become increasingly available at U.S. grocery stores in the past 10 years, both whole (it's that spiky orb that's usually larger than a football and smaller than a watermelon) or cooked (sold in a can or in the freezer section). When it's ripe, jackfruit has a banana or mango-like flavor and sweetness, but unripe, the neutral flavor allows cooks to take advantage of its meaty texture.
Some companies sell packaged jackfruit that's already seasoned so home cooks can simply reheat it, but plain unripe jackfruit is an excellent base ingredient in recipes like this one from Tim Anderson's "Vegan JapanEasy."
Anderson, owner of the London restaurant Nanban, marinates canned jackfruit and then coats it in a cornstarch mixture before frying to create a chicken karaage-like appetizer or entree that you can serve with any number of dipping sauces. This is a kid-friendly dish that could come in handy if you're new to plant-based eating.
Crispy Fried Jackfruit
Jackfruit is now widely used as a meat substitute in stews, curries, sandwiches and tacos, but I prefer it in recipes like this, where it's kept more intact so you can fully appreciate its toothsome texture and subtle artichoke-like flavor. This jackfruit deep-fried in the style of Japanese fried chicken is nothing short of genius. It is, in fact, so "meaty" that every now and again a customer at our restaurant will send this dish back to the kitchen, mistakenly thinking we've served them chicken!
- Tim Anderson
For the marinade:
• 4 tablespoons sake
• 2 tablespoons mirin
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon vinegar
• Juice of 1 lime
• 1 tablespoon sesame oil
• 1 tablespoon Sriracha or similar hot chile sauce
• 10 garlic cloves, peeled
• 2 shallots or 1 banana shallot, roughly chopped
• 1 (1-inch) piece fresh root ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon dashi powder
For the jackfruit:
• 1 (14-ounce) can young green jackfruit, drained
• 4 cups neutral oil, for deep-frying
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the seasoned cornstarch:
• 2 cups cornstarch
• 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon chile powder
• 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
For the marinade, combine all the ingredients together in a food processor until no big chunks remain. (It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth.)
If there are any really big chunks of jackfruit, cut them a bit smaller - they shouldn't be bite-size, but probably not much bigger than two-bite-size. Coat the jackfruit in the marinade and leave in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
For the seasoned cornstarch, stir together all the ingredients until the seasonings are well distributed. (You can also simply use unseasoned cornstarch, but season the jackfruit with salt and pepper after it is fried.)
To cook, pour the oil into a very deep, wide saucepan, to come no higher than halfway up the sides, and heat to 350 degrees. Remove the jackfruit from the marinade, letting any excess drip off, and dredge in the seasoned cornstarch, ensuring that all the nooks and crannies are well coated - this will help maximize crunch and help keep the sugars in the marinade from burning. Carefully lower the jackfruit into the oil in small batches, checking the temperature periodically to ensure it is still around 350 degrees, and fry for about 5 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
Remove the jackfruit with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels; if you're not using the seasoned flour, finish with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Serve with vegan Japanese mayo, ponzu or just good old soy sauce and perhaps a wedge of lemon.
- From "Vegan JapanEasy Over 80 Delicious Plant-Based Japanese Recipes" by Tim Anderson (Hardie Grant, $32.50)