I recently asked one of the test kitchen pros in the Time Inc. Food Studios to develop some jackfruit recipes (that is, after she suggested that it'd be a good idea to develop some jackfruit recipes) to bulk up our vegan tailgating collection. But being that I am a shamelessly red meat-loving carnivore of a woman, the extent of my knowledge about jackfruit spanned to: 1.) jackfruit is a large fruit 2.) jackfruit is a trendy fruit 3.) jackfruit is a large trendy fruit because people use it as a meat substitute.
But in observing my test kitchen pal cook with jackfruit, I learned a few things that will definitely come in handy when I actually cook the stuff for myself (which is definitely going to happen, after having tasted the final products):
1. Canned jackfruit looks freakishly like canned tuna.
It's crazy. I'm just throwing this out there, because the appearance took me by surprise and I figure it might be alarming if you're opening a can of jackfruit for the first time and you're not sure what to expect. Expect something that looks similar to Chicken of the Sea.
2. You need to buy jackfruit canned in brine.
For cooking purposes, canned jackfruit is the wait to go--you can find it shelved with other canned fruits at your local Asian market or online. But be sure you buy jackfruit canned in brine, not syrup. If you're planning to use the jackfruit as a meat substitute, the stuff canned in syrup is too bizarrely sweet and you cannot rid it of that flavor, despite your best efforts. Sorry.
3. You want to drain your jackfruit really really well.
Drain it, and I'd even pat it dry a bit. Because after that, you'll want to throw it into a skillet of hot oil to develop some super satisfying crispy edges. Soggy things have a hard time crisping. And if you're trying to make something like carnitas, the crisped edges are a must.
4. You need to keep your acid in check.
Beyond it's inherently fleshy texture, jackfruit is a great meat alternative because it's easy to impose flavor upon--with whatever spices and aromatics you want to use to achieve a desired flavor profile. That said, the jackfruit in brine brings a touch of acidity to the table, so proceed delicately with other acid-forward components--such as vinegar or citrus--as you cook. It's not a big deal, just taste as you go so you don't go overboard with acidity. We discovered this once we moved into making a "Sloppy Joe"-inspired barbecue jackfruit sandwich. The first barbecue sauce we tried had too much of a vinegar presence to really work well with the jackfruit, so we found that a sweeter, smokier sauce was the way to go. That sweeter sauce allowed the jackfruit to balance out the crisp slaw (where we did want to include at least a little acid) beautifully. As with cooking anything for the first time, it's always helpful (and usually fun) to get to know your ingredients.
5. Jackfruit is awesome even if you're not avoiding meat.
Like many cool things happening in the food world right now, vegetarians and vegans brought jackfruit and all of its potential to mainstream popularity, but it's an exceptionally dope ingredient to play with regardless of your philosophy on eating animals. Canned jackfruit is inexpensive, and extremely low in calories and fat--so as long as you are intentional about including the protein you need in other places on the plate, I'd say it's a pretty smart ingredient to incorporate into your entrees. And of everyone who tasted these jackfruit creations in the test kitchen, we had zero vegetarians or vegans... but quite a few highly impressed (and by that, I mean they asked for seconds--a rarity in the test kitchen) carnivores.