Not just for chewing gum anymore
Somehow, I’ve been roped into doing a cooking demo at Whole Foods Kailua in August (date pending) featuring tropical fruit. My good friend Ken Love is in charge of a project to encourage grocery stores to stock some of the more exotic tropical fruit that’s now being grown, but left largely unused, on the various islands.
We first thought we’d be doing the demo very soon, so we headed out to Frankie’s Nursery in Waimanalo, where we picked up a box of chico, the fruit of a tree that exudes latex, from which many things, including chewing gum (Chiclets, get it?), are made.
I’ve made a couple of things: a chico butter based on my super-easy banana butter and a fresh Indian-style chutney.
At Frankie’s, they describe it as “pear and brown sugar.” And they’re right: the texture is pear, the taste is faint brown sugar with some vegetal overtones. (I haven’t a great tasting palate, so I can’t get much more specific than that.)
They are round or oval, about the size of a handball, with bark-like skin (use a vegetable peeler) and 1-3 black seeds readily pushed out with your fingers. Some varieties are sweeter than others.
Frankie handed me a slice to taste and a box of a couple of dozen ripening fruit, Ken gave me some background information on the fruit and went back to the Big Island and I was on my own.
On the whole, I like chico, which is popular in many parts of the world but almost unknown in the U.S. Just one, little caveat: If you cook with chico, use a pot you don’t care about, empty the pot of chico as soon as you’re done cooking and wash it.
I’m looking right now at my favorite saucepan and soup pot and both are lined with latex that won’t scrub off. It’s got to be scraped off; my thumbnail works best. Talk about tedious. It just will not be dissolved, as though my pot were covered with a thin film of chewing gum. I’m thinking of trying freezing the pot to see if it will solidify and crack.
Sigh. Today, being a recipe tester is not fun, even though I love the chico butter and think the chutney tastes WOW!
It’s not fun being a blogger, either. I’ve lost the little device that allows me to transfer pictures from my camera to my computer. Dangit. So I’ll mount those soon, but there’s nothing for you now except one I’m going to take with my phone of Chico Chutney Chicken. (Say that fast five times.)
Fresh chico chutney
1/3 cup tamarind water* or seedless tamarind paste
1/3 cup raw sugar (turbinado; I like Maui brand for its molasses flavor)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped chico or other fresh tropical fruit (mango, half-ripe papaya, pineapple)
Juice of 2 lemons
1 rounded teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder (or toasted cumin seeds)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
In a saucepan, boil together the tamarind water, sugar and water for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add fruit and spices. Taste and adjust sweetness, saltiness, heat or spice as desired. May be served as a relish with grilled fish or meats, with sharp cheese on crackers or slices of baguette.
Or make chutney chicken: Fry 4-6 pieces skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, dusted with salt and pepper, in Indian mustard oil (or vegetable oil) just to brown and crisp the skin. Top with several large spoonsful of chutney and bake at 325 degrees until chicken is cooked through (at least 145 degrees internal temperature). Serve with basmati rice (for additional color and flavor, saute a teaspoon or two of your favorite curry powder in a little oil and stir this into the rice and water before you steam the starch).
* To make tamarind water, cut a couple of thick slices from a block of mashed tamarind pulp and place it in 1 cup water, bring to a boil and steep until cool. Drain away solids.