I am very grateful to be based in a tropical country with access to abundant and unique tropical fruits. Flamboyant pitayas, gargantuous jackfruits vs puny berries; the preferred choice is obvious. In addition to my widely professed love for spiky durians, a close runner up is cempedak. If you haven’t noticed the trend, bold pungent fruits with attitude attract me like north attracts south.
While I love to enjoy fruits fresh most of the time – and it should indeed be for maximum nutrients and benefits – it is okay to experiment once in a while and embrace new discoveries. Cempedak is a fruit native to south east asia, mainly Malaysia and Thailand. It has a chewy, fibrous texture that lends itself well to being “pulled.” Be forewarned of the potent odour that emanates from the fruit; it has been likened to “fermented urine combined with sweet syrup” (what does fermented urine even smell like?!). But despite the strange description, I find it rather heavenly and will inhale deeply the fragrance and express a “flehmen response” not unlike a cat or dog! You can read more about the intricacies about Cempedak here.
Pulled pork is pork meat (typically the shoulder) slow-cooked until so tender it can be gently teased apart by fork or hand into succulent threads. It is then doused with barbeque sauce. This dish traces its roots to pre-cival war in the United States.
Southern gentlemen and the bourgeois would attend and host extravagant barbeques that would last a couple of days. The better cuts of meats such as the ribs and loins would be served to the landowners, while the slaves and servants who prepared the food were given the belly and lesser cuts of meat. They learned to slow cook these cuts over coals. The slaves were typically so hungry that they would “pull the pork” off of the coals when the meat was done, hence the phrase was coined.
While any meat can literally be “pulled” apart, there are other kind vegan options for creating that familiar texture, such as the meaty cempedak fruit. In preparing the the real pulled pork, three steps are involved: injection, rub and sauce. My eyes did a double-take when I saw “injection.” Yes, it literally means injecting the poor hog with a syringe filled with an injection solution, typically of sweetened apple juice to retain moisture in the meat. What a bizzare idea! Although pulled “cempedork” definitely doesn’t require any injection, it’s a cool idea and I’m keeping this in mind for future recipes. The second part, the rub, can be savory, sweet, hot or a combination. The recipe I use borders on a little spicy. After the cempedak is rubbed, rest time is key. The rub will infuse and mingle with the sweetness of the fruit. The final sauce is an indispensable element of the dish, the intricate particulars of which are the subject of fierce regional debate. The version I used is more similar to the heavier Southern-style blend which is sweet and tomato-based.
- ½ cup cempedak flesh (about 6 seeds)
- 1 small red onion, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ teaspooon paprika
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon cumin powder
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1½ tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon raw apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon vegetable oil
- Bread rolls or slices (I used sprouted bread from Natural Health Farm at Zhongshan Mall)
- Add onion to a skillet over medium low and heat until it is caramelized and browned. Add garlic for the last minute or so, until fragrant.
- Mix together dry rub spices and toss jackfruit pieces in mixture until coated. Add to a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat for about five minutes to toast spices.
- Mix together wet sauce ingredients and add to saucepan, along with onion and garlic. Simmer jackfruit in sauce for 15 to 30 minutes until well heated and softened. Using a fork, shred the jackfruit pieces into small stringy bits.
- Spread mixture evenly on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes until slightly dried out and toughened.
- Serve with bread rolls or slices.