I was at a friends’ house the first time I tried jackfruit. My friends are the type of people who not only know good vegan food, they know how to cook good vegan food. So when they asked me to taste my dinner prior to hearing what the dish was made from, I happily agreed. I knew I didn’t have to ask if it was vegan- my hosts are vegan themselves. My only concern was the sly glances and secret smiles they kept passing between them as I ate and asked repeatedly: “What is this?”
It was chewy, like pulled meat, but didn’t have the taste of soy protein, textured vegetable protein, or any other plant protein I had ever had. It was jackfruit. “Pulled” BBQ jackfruit to be specific, and it was delicious.
I knew I wanted to try my hand at making “Pulled” BBQ jackfruit. After all, my love of all things BBQ is well documented. I asked my friends where I could get some jackfruit since I had never seen it before. I was told that I’d find some at an Asian market. No problem, I’ve got two of those near me.
Off I went, armed with the only knowledge I had about jackfruit at that time: the name. Turns out I needed a little bit more information.
Brine or Syrup: Which One Do You Buy?
There are two types of jackfruit commonly sold at Asian markets: Green young jackfruit in brine and ripe jackfruit in syrup. One you can use to make a delicious BBQ out of, the other you can’t. Can you guess which one I bought the first time?
Left: Ripe in syrup – Right: Green Young in brine
Ripe jackfruit has the taste of pineapple and grapes- it reminds me of those little containers of fruit salad in syrup with the cherries in it from the 1980s, remember those? While tasty, that’s not the fruit you need to make shredded goodness. For that you’ll need young green kind like the one shown on the right of the above photo.
No Asian or specialty markets near you? You can buy jackfruit here.
Update 2017: Since this article published, jackfruit has enjoyed a soar in popularity which has prompted companies in creating fully prepared versions. Sometimes they’re flavored and sometimes not- either way, they’re a convenient way to introduce yourself to jackfruit.
How to Make Shredded Jackfruit
First things first, you’re going to need some barbecue sauce. For this dish I whipped up a sweet and spicy fig-garlic BBQ sauce. Do you know how to make your own barbecue sauce? Yes? Excellent! You’ll need to make a batch. No? Let me teach you.
Once you have your sauce made it’s time to tackle the fruit. Open and drain the contents of the can. Next, rinse the pieces under running water and then place it in a pot. Add the barbecue sauce. If the sauce does not cover the jackfruit completely, add a bit of water until it does.
Don’t use too much water- you don’t want to water down your lovely barbecue sauce- only use the amount you need. You can always add more liquid later if you need to, but you won’t be able to remove liquid later if you add too much.
How Long Do You Cook Jackfruit?
I guess a better question is, how much do you like to chew? The longer you cook it, the more like “pulled” meat it becomes. I have found that cooking for at least an hour or two is best. If you are pressed for time, you can speed the process along by using a fork to shred it yourself while it’s cooking. You won’t have quite as much soaked-in flavor, but you will be able to get dinner to the table in about an hour.
This is what it looks like after an hour:
See how it’s starting to break down into shreds? That’s what you’re looking for. The longer it cooks, the more the fruit breaks down and the more flavor you get.
Pulled Sweet & Spicy BBQ Jackfruit & Fried Polenta
The first time I tried jackfruit it was served with kale and polenta. I love that combination and make it frequently so it was almost a no-brainer to try and mimic my friends dish.
Just as an aside, this isn’t the only way you can make jackfruit. You could also use it on sliders and serve them up with coleslaw. I haven’t worked with it enough to have a variety of recipes, but I plan to try all sorts of flavor combos with it. The next thing I want to try is this jackfruit curry dish- it sounds amazing.
As for me, well, this is what I came up with:
I loved it. I love the chewiness, the spiciness of the sauce, and how well it all pairs with a bit of fried polenta. I also appreciate that this chewy meat-like dish is made from a fruit, rather than some isolated soy protein or some such thing. Those things are fine in moderation, but it’s nice to have a whole-food option without the ingredient list.
Almost forgot, did you buy the wrong type of jackfruit and are now wondering what to do with it? I sliced mine up and baked it with some apples. I’ve also just eaten it plain. I bet it’d be good with coconut yogurt too. There’s possibilities, that’s what I’m saying :)