Friday, November 13, 2009

Recipe: Jackfruit Corned Beef Reubens

Like most vegan bloggers, I've heard a great deal at this point about the wonders of jackfruit. A South Asian tree fruit, you can find it canned in Asian markets either sweet or in a brine. Some genius discovered that when cooked and pulled apart, the young jackfruit, canned in brine, bears an uncanny resemblance to carnitas or pulled pork. Prior to marinating and cooking, the flesh of the fruit is white and basically flavorless. When I first heard of jackfruit carnitas, I became interested in trying a slow-cooker jackfruit "corned beef," as while it doesn't exactly follow the same texture as carnitas or pulled pork, corned beef does have a somewhat fragmented, sinewy appearance in many cases. Properly colored and flavored, I thought jackfruit had potential, and with the many Asian markets in this neighborhood of Portland, finding the ingredients would be a cinch.

Corned Jackfruit Broth:

juice from 1 15 oz can of sliced beets (reserve beets for another use) (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons pickling spices (mixture can be purchased in bulk bins at New Seasons)
1 cup red wine or vinegar of choice (I used some extremely old red wine found in the cupboard)
4 tablespoons miso paste
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
1 20 oz can young green jackfruit in brine, drained
1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced

Lay jackfruit pieces flat in crockpot. Mix all ingredients except onion in a bowl, dissolving miso. Pour over jackfruit pieces. Lay onion pieces on top. Set crockpot on low and cook for at least 6 hours. Remove the large triangles of jack fruit from the spices, onion and broth. Tear into smaller chunks as desired.

We created a reuben sauce by combining some noochy sauce I'd created earlier in the week (basically miso broth, nutritional yeast and mustard) with equal parts mustard, ketchup and minced pickle. Nothing fancy, we served it on simple dark rye, grilled on the stovetop, with some warmed grocery store kraut.

Both of us I think were a little trepidacious, and were pleasantly surprised at the result. Though it had been in the slow cooker for about 8 hours, the fruit was perfectly tender and not mushy at all. The texture was great; I didn't fully shred the jackfruit as I might have if I was making vegan pulled pork or carnitas, just broke it into smaller chunks, seeds included. I thought it certainly resembled the texture of chunks of meat, if not a bit more tender and juicy. The sandwich was messy in a good way, without being greasy, and was easier to handle than I expected. The jackfruit doesn't absorb the broth or brine, so you don't end up with bursts of liquid when you bite in, as you might expect. Just a soft yet firm mouthful that is not at all soggy or mushy.

In the future I would definitely tinker with the broth. It just wasn't nearly as flavorful as it could be. Perhaps more miso, or a cube of bullion would help. I would also reduce the pickling spices by half, but only because the cloves definitely overshadowed the other flavors. Consider replacing the red wine with apple cider vinegar, or another flavorful vinegar. Spices such as peppers and garlic would make it more interesting. I couldn't really taste the influence of the red wine or even the tablespoon of liquid smoke. I'm kicking myself for not thinking to include a bay leaf. The moral of the story is, don't be shy with the flavorings. Or perhaps combine the jackfruit with other flavorful components after slow cooking; for example, toss in a pan with mushrooms or caramelized onions (B.'s suggestion); the mild flavor of the jackfruit is an opportunity for other components to shine, while retaining a wonderful meaty texture. Using a bit of oil might give a crispy texture to the "meat" as well. I would also hesitate to use sliced onions in the slow cooker in the future, unless I made the pieces really big and easier to remove. It was a little of a hassle separating the jackfruit from the mess of pickling spices and onion.

Though it doesn't provide the protein of tempeh or tofu, jackfruit is an easy and versatile replacement for meat. Just serve with a bean-heavy salad if you want more legumes with your meal.

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