Alan Tangren: Mangos on the market?
Ask the Forager
Dear Alan: I’ve been seeing a lot of mangos in the stores lately. Are they really in season?
Alan: Like many tropical fruits, you can find mangos in the market year ’round. But the best mangos arrive on our shores in late spring and early summer.
I think of mangos as the springtime peach. The soft, sweet, melting flesh and haunting pine-like aroma of a perfectly ripe mango leads some to call it the king of fruits.
There are those who say they don’t like mangos, but I say they haven’t had a good one, full of flavor and with the perfect balance of sweet and tart on the tongue.
In Mexico and other areas of the tropics where mangos grow, it’s hard to find a bad one, whether purchased at a market or peeled, sliced and ready to eat from a sidewalk vendor, they will have been picked at the peak of ripeness.
But even if you shop in our area, far from the tropical groves, you can still find good, organically grown mangos at your local store. Mangos can be found at any month of the year, but they start showing up abundantly in late spring and early summer.
Mangos from Mexico and the Caribbean go beautifully with the tropical flavors of papaya and pineapple in fruit salads, spiked with a little lemon or lime. Later in the season they can be simply peeled and sliced, seasoned with a squeeze of Mexican lime. A simple dessert is sliced mango splashed with a good sweet wine.
On the savory side, mango is good with fish and shellfish, or flavorful poultry such as duck or squab. Under-ripe mangos, still very firm and spicy-tangy, are great in Indian and Southeast Asian dishes, especially salads, pickles and chutney.
For a recent class at Tess’ we made a Thai salad with julienned mango, cucumber and carrots, topped with spicy sautéed shrimp and fried shallots. Mango salsa is another favorite, especially with grilled fresh tuna or on a spicy fish taco.
Although mangos start coming to market in March, the highest quality fruit arrive in late spring and early summer, when there can be a bewildering number of different varieties coming from Central and South America.
There are various shapes — round, oblong or kidney-shaped — and sizes, from just a few ounces to a couple of pounds each. All have a smooth, waxy skin that can come in beautiful sunset colors — some completely yellow, some green or yellow splashed with orange, red and purple.
In India, the ancestral home of mangos, there are 500 known varieties that grow on several million acres of land. In the U.S., Florida is the only state that has commercial mango production. Mangos are popular backyard trees in Hawaii, but they cannot be shipped to the mainland.
Two varieties you may see in the store are Tommy Atkins and Keitt, both grown in Florida. Tommy Atkins look great, but they are rather subdued in flavor. The thick yellow/orange skin is blushed with red, and the flesh is bright yellow. They come from Mexico in spring and summer, and from Florida in June and July.
Worth waiting for a little later in the season is Keitt. It is richly flavored, with yellow/orange flesh that is not as fibrous as some others. The large oval frits can weigh a pound or more, and the skin is greenish yellow with some red as well.
One of my favorites is Ataulfo, a small yellow mango that was discovered as a seedling in Hawaii. The small, kidney-shaped fruits weigh no more than half a pound, but are very sweet, with smooth, buttery flesh and lots of flavor.
Use your sense of smell and touch when shopping for ripe mangos. They should have a mild, fruity aroma, especially at the stem end, and they should yield to gentle pressure, like a ripe avocado.
Avoid mangos that are very soft, wrinkled or bruised. Color will tell you only what variety they are. The skin of some varieties never budges from dark green, even when ripe.
Fruit that is soft and ripe will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
But firm, ripe mangos can be kept at room temperature for up to a week, where they will gradually soften and become more palatable. You can speed up the process by putting mangos in a paper bag with an apple.
Mangos belong to a large family, including cashews, but also poison oak and poison ivy. A few people are very sensitive to oils in the skin of mangos and the sap of the trees, which can cause skin irritation. If you are not sure of your reaction, wash mangos carefully before handling and use gloves when peeling.
Mangos have a single, large, flat seed in the center of the fruit that clings tightly to the flesh, which must be cut away from the seed with a knife. This can be done before or after peeling. Stand the fruit on the stem end, with the narrow side facing you. Cut off the thick cheeks of the fruit on either side of the pit. Cut close to the pit, but avoid the fibrous flesh near its surface.
Cut off the two thinner strips that remain on the pit. Peel and cut or purée the fruit as needed.
Any useable flesh still clinging to the pit is the cook’s reward, and should be eaten leaning over the sink when no one is looking.
Mango salsa is easy to make. Just peel and dice a large sweet mango and chop half a red onion. Chop a medium-size jalapeno or other chili very fine, with or without the seeds as you wish. Combine all with ½ cup chopped cilantro and the juice of 1 or 2 limes. Season with salt.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill Street in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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