Durian October 29, 2008Posted by Fritz in Food.
Tags: Alton Brown, Andrew Zimmern, Anthony Bourdain, cooking, durian, Food Network, Travel Channel
I like to cook. As an active preparer of food and an eager eater of the same, anything epicurean is of interest. I will admit to a guilty pleasure of watching a few of the more than abundant cooking shows on cable. While I can appreciate the talent, skill and time needed to achieve the level of culinary expertise to succeed on programs like Iron Chef or the Food Network’s Food Network Challenge, I prefer the more down to earth programming that features regional specialties I could probably prepare myself. Shows like Alton Brown’s Good Eats on the Food Network, Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on the Travel Channel rank as my favorites. Bourdain’s No Reservations is number one in my cookbook because he mixes travel to exotic places with the exploration of the local fare. It was during a show, shot in South East Asia, that he introduced me to durian, the infamous ‘King of Fruits’. The fruit is not very well known outside that part of the world. Both revered and reviled, it has quite a story.
“The edible flesh emits a distinctive odour, strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Regarded by some as fragrant, others as overpowering and offensive, the smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust. The odor has led to the fruit’s banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in Southeast Asia.” (From Wikipedia)
Several days ago I saw an article in my local newspaper mentioning a local Asian food market selling durian. I promptly headed off in search of the ‘King of Fruits’.
As I walked through this great little store I passed an Asian man with a hand basket brimming with products. He happened to pause long enough as we passed (the shop’s aisles were tiny) and I saw a container of frozen durian sitting on top. An amazing coincidence! I immediately headed for the freezer and pulled the last box off the shelf. I did notice an intact specimen, at the bottom of the freezer. It was almost round with menacing spikes protruding from every inch of it’s skin. Bigger than a softball but smaller than a volleyball. The color was a greenish brown.
The frozen fruit was pre-packaged in a clear plastic container that was hermetically sealed from the outside. I could see each of the three pieces of fruit inside were also wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Obviously there was an issue with smell.
After I got home I eagerly read the packaging, most of which was in Thai. I don’t read Thai but I know enough to recognize the hieroglyphs as that language. (my other clue was ‘Product of Thailand’ printed under the UPC code) The directions said to thaw out the fruit, under refrigeration, before consuming. I put one of the cellophane wrapped durian balls, about the size of two golf balls smooshed together, on a plate in the refrigerator and waited. Six hours later I checked the progress. As soon as I opened the refrigerator door I immediately smelled the durian. As the fruit warmed the famous odor began to present itself. While I can’t say it was an overly offensive smell, I can say it wasn’t strawberries and bananas either. It was truly a unique odor that fell into the category of rotting onions and old cheese. No particular cheese, just old.
Intrigued, I pulled the plate out of the fridge and began unwrapping the cellophane, concerned that the smell would somehow suddenly overwhelm me when the plastic was removed. It didn’t. It was stronger but not as bad as I expected. The fruit was a pale yellow, reminding me of the color newsprint gets when exposed to sunlight. I scooped a very small amount onto a spoon and reminded myself that this was the ‘King of Fruits’. My tongue’s first sensation was it was still rather cold. Then the custardy smoothness surprised me. The taste was actually the third sensation to register. In a word, weird. Not particularly pleasent but I also hadn’t thrown up yet. As the fruit dissolved in my mouth the initial rotting/cheesy/whatever taste evolved into a unique, slightly sweet, almost pleasant ending. I was beginning to see how this fruit had earned it’s reputation.
I tried 3 or 4 more spoonfuls, hoping it would grow on me. It didn’t. I carefully wrapped up the remaining fruit and popped it back into the freezer. Minus 32 degrees Fahrenheit was the only defense against the smell. So what to do with the rest of this freak of the fruit world? My wife and 15 year-old daughter both flatly rejected even trying it and I couldn’t see throwing it away at almost $20 a pound. There has to be a way to use this in a recipe that retains the unique qualities of the fruit while still being appetising.
I’m searching…and when I find it, I’ll let you know. Also— please pass along any durian family recipes!