What's in Season: Mangoes
When the mangoes arrive you know that spring is coming.
Mangoes are a tropical fruit that we can buy almost year-round. Still, it's a sign of spring when they start piling up in front of our markets and the prices begin to drop. And in this season of wacky weather (it's spring...it's winter...it's spring...etc.), it shouldn't be surprising that I had my first seasonal mango sighting on March 1.
Mangoes are sacred in India where this luscious fruit originated and their orange-gold color is a sign of their super-nutrients, especially beta carotene. There are hundreds of varieties cultivated around the world, including California and Florida, although many of the mangoes sold here are from Peru. What nearly all mangoes have in common are a thin green skin that will ripen to yellow, a slightly fiberous pulpy fruit, a large interior seed, and a complex, sweet/astringent flavor.
Produce markets in New York often sell two or three types of mangoes. As a general rule, there's not a big difference in taste between the smaller, kidney-shaped mangoes and the larger, greener ones. Since I usually am using mangoes in something full-flavored like a salsa or chutney, whatever the subtle taste difference will be totally masked. As a result, I choose depending upon what looks best and which are ripe in the store.
When shopping for mangoes, gently feel the fruit for its tenderness. If the fruit is ripe it will slightly give under your fingers (please don't over-squeeze or you'll damage the fruit and piss off the store manager). Most mangoes are picked unripe so as to ripen either in the stores or else after you buy it. Unless you need one that's ready to eat right then, buy one that's still firm because as it will ripen in just a few days (you can speed this up by placing the fruit in a brown paper bag and leave it on a counter, out of the sun). While you have the mango in your hand, smell it. As when buying melons or pineapples, you should be able to detect a fruity aroma. Finally, avoid mangoes that are either very soft or appear bruised.
Cooking With Mangoes
The large interior seed can make it a bit of a challenge to remove the mango fruit, especially after it's peeled and becomes slippery to handle. But I don't think there's any secret to the task: I just use a vegetable peeler to take off the skin and then holding the mango carefully on a cutting board, I use a chef's knife to cut off the four sides and top/bottom, finding the edge of the interior seed with the knife's blade (the fruit will essentially guide you as to where the fruit ends and the seed begins). I then cut the pieces into dices or slices, depending on what I'm making.
The one exception to this method is to peel the fruit and then continue using a vegetable peeler to make ribbons of mango. Mango ribbons are a nice touch as a side to fish or meat because the ribbons are big enough for an accent taste, plus it's decorative on the plate.
Mangoes are most often used in one of three ways: One, eat them naked and plain. Two, use them as the core ingredient as in a mango ice cream or mousse or smoothie. Or three -- and this is the most common use for mangoes -- use them as an accent ingredient or flavor in a dish that features another ingredient.
This could mean:
- Add small dices of mango to a ham salad or in ribbons alongside a crab salad.
- Add pieces to a fresh fruit salad, especially one that has other tropical fruits like pineapple or papaya.
- Include in a sauce for fish or a tandoori-spiced chicken.
- Feature small diced pieces in a shrimp salad along with avocado.
- Purée and use unsweetened as a sauce with crab or fish cakes; sweeten the purée and drizzle over angel food cake.
- Or the two most popular uses for mangoes -- chutney or salsa.
Pan Cooked Tilapia With Mango Salsa
Mango salsa is a bright, slightly acidic companion to a simple piece of fish or a plate of pan-seared shrimp and mango chutney can bring out the flavor of a pork or beef sandwich. Search any recipe database and you'll find dozens of recipes for both. I like a mango red onion salsa from Bon Appétit magazine that's listed at Epicurious.com. I've included the link.
Finally, once you've made a mango salsa, what should you do with it? I suppose a bag of corn chips might be enough, but I would serve it with tilapia, a healthy and inexpensive white fish. Dust the pieces of tilapia in some flour to which you've added some salt and black pepper and maybe a pinch of paprika, and quickly sauté the fish in a medium-hot pan with little olive oil, about 2 minutes a side. Serve the fish with a green vegetable, such as steamed broccolini, plus rice or a grain like quinoa, adding a large spoonful of the mango salsa on the side.
With a dinner like this, you know that spring is absolutely around the corner.