I’m not usually a fan of vegan or vegetarian dishes that try to mimic meat dishes. But this is an exception. This I had to try! Over the years, I’ve noticed more and more posts of unripe jackfruit in recipes claiming it is just like pulled pork. I had to see for myself. It’s definitely grown in popularity that I now see that Trader Joe’s sells it!
Having grown up with this fruit, it seems odd to me that this would make a good meat substitute. But then again I’m used to the ripe fruit hanging from the tree. The unripe canned stuff is ideal for a meat substitute because it really doesn’t have much of a flavor, and has a kind of chewy/tender mouthfeel. I can see how it might easily absorb flavors you add to it, like tofu. But whereas tofu is really crumbly, this holds together pretty well.
Cochinita Pibil is a traditional roasted pork dish from the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The meat is marinated in a citrus and annatto colored paste with spices and slow-cooked wrapped in banana leaves in a pit in the earth. I decided to use this recipe HERE and to make tacos with it.
So, now that I made it, what’s the verdict? I am going to give it a thumbs up, with some caveats. It is a very good believable meat substitute. The rumors are true. Just look at it. But it is not exactly the same as pulled pork. There is something…I don’t know what. Something is missing. It’s good, but the mouthfeel is slightly different. Maybe if you do not include the seeds or core area of the fruit. I noticed some recipes online say to include, some don’t.
There also seems to be a quality in meat and pork that I’m not finding with this at all. But then again, maybe I’m just expecting too much. After all, I’m judging it strictly without the other components of the taco ingredients.
So I’m going to say, use this as a substitute for a pork dish, but use it in something that has other components. Like pulled pork sandwiches with mayonnaise, coleslaw, pickles, buns, etc. Also, make sure you tell someone that it’s not meat. Trust me, they’ll know it’s not meat. That way, there’s less chance of disappointment!
And finally, you may need to add or adjust ingredients of an original recipe that calls for meat. For example, the original recipe I used called for a whole 3.5 ounce box of achiote paste, which seemed like a lot, so I adjusted the recipe to half a box, or 1.75 ounces. Truthfully, one box seems like a lot even if meat was to be used. I felt it was too bitter, and if you will be serving it to someone unfamiliar to achiote, this will be beyond bitter. So I added olive oil and maple syrup to try and balance it out. But I think it works, so I’m going to leave it in the adjusted recipe for future use. (Sorry, co-workers, I’m bringing this in for the potluck, so you’ll be getting the full box of achiote paste!)
Maybe it’s umami that’s missing.
I bought several cans of the stuff, because I still want to experiment with recipes, but I might try recipes that showcase its qualities without trying to make it resemble and taste like meat. I glanced at a few recipes online of soups containing coconut milk where the jackfruit flesh is cut in large chunks and you can see the seeds and fleshy parts, and it looks like that might be the way to go.
Vegan Yucatecan Pulled Pork (Cochinita Pibil) based on this recipe by djfoodie
1.75 ounce achiote paste (half a 3.5 oz box. Found in Latino/Hispanic aisle of grocery stores.)
2 jalapeno chiles seeds optional
2 teaspoons cumin seed, ground
1 teaspoon coriander seed, ground
1/2 teaspoon cloves, ground
1/2 bunch cilantro, washed and stems removed, plus more for tacos/garnishing
one head of garlic (about 12 cloves), husk skin removed, each clove thinly sliced
1/2 cup lime juice, fresh squeezed
6 pounds of canned unripe jackfruit in brine, drained and coarsely cut
1 package frozen banana leaves, thawed
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons maple syrup or agave syrup (optional)
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Drain and cut the canned jackfruit. Cut from core to outer edges of fruit as in here.
Zest the orange, and juice it. Should be about 1/3 cup of juice. Place both the zest and juice in a blender.
To the blender, add the achiote paste, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cilantro, garlic, lime juice. Puree to a paste, adding more orange juice if needed.
In a large saucepan, heat up about 3 Tablespoons of olive oil, or other preferred vegetable oil, on high. When hot, add the cut up jackfruit, and sauté about 10 minutes, until tender. Remove from heat.
With two forks, while still in saucepan shred the jackfruit to resemble pulled pork.
Add the contents of blender and mix to ensure all of the fruit is coated with the sauce. Add a couple of tablespoons of water, if sauce is too thick.
Line a baking tray or dish with a high lid with foil and place banana leaves overlapping and hanging out the sides.
Place the meat in center of dish, over the leaves and fold the overhanging banana leaves over the top.
Bake for about 30 minutes on 350 degrees F. Remove from oven and open banana leaves and drizzle about 3 Tablespoons of maple or agave syrup (if using).
(Feel free to use less, if any, of the maple syrup; Cochinita Pibil typically does not have any maple syrup in it, and it is not sweet. I used it only because I used a whole box of the achiote paste called for in the original recipe, and it was too strong and bitter tasting, but adjusted this recipe to half the box only, so you might not need as much of the syrup to counteract the bitterness.)
Place back in oven with leaves open and bake another 20 minutes. This helps firm up the jackfruit to make it more like meat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve as tacos with hot corn tortillas topped with pickled red onions, cilantro, sliced radishes, jalapenos, and avocado.