Officially fruit, but in practical terms this sukun (a.k.a. breadfruit) possesses the qualities of both fruit and vegetable, depending on when it's eaten.
We were gifted this specimen by a favorite vegetable seller at Kuala Lumpur's TTDI Sunday night market. She had just a few, all from her own tree. I didn't recognize it as a breadfruit because the specimens I'm used to seeing are oblong-ish and much, much larger, like a jackfruit. This baby wasn't even 6 inches in diameter.
In Malaysia breadfruit is usually eaten young (unripe), coated with flour and deep-fried. You'll often find crispy breadfruit slices sold alongside sweet potato and banana fritters. It tastes like, well, bread - all well and good I suppose, but not particularly interesting.
We took our baby breadfruit home and left it on the counter. When we got to it a couple days later - surprise surprise - it was soft. Cutting it open without squishing it and peeling its skin without also pulling off a good bit of flesh was a challenge. I tasted it raw and loved its texture - smooth, soft, and buttery, like an overripe avocado or the finest Malaysian durian - and wonderful banana-pineapple-with-a hint-of-citric-tartness flavor.
I dipped a couple slices in flour and fried them as our veg vendor had advised. The texture was pleasing enough, like a deep-fried plantain, but the breadfruit's specialness - that lovely tropical essence - had disappeared.
The next day I tried again with the leftovers. I figured if I undercooked the fruit I might be able to preserve its custard-like texture and subtle flavor. The fact that it was chilled through was a good start. I dropped a knob of butter into a saute pan and let it sizzle, then added a hefty shaving of gula Melaka and swirled it around in the pan to melt a bit (but not completely). I then slid in a few thick slices of breadfruit, and left them in the bubbling butter just long enough to barely brown all sides.
Eureka! What I ended up with were slices of breadfruit bathed in golden butter and stuck here and there with smoky, caramel-like bits of gula Melaka. They were barely firm on the outside, warm but still pudding-like within, and tasted very much like, well, a deliciously fragrant tropical fruit rather than a piece of bread. A scoop of vanilla ice cream would have worked here. Think banana and pineapple flambe without the booze.
This experiment got me wondering why, in this land of durian made into ice cream and pastries, the same isn't done with breadfruit (or is it? Breadfruit is incorporated into sweets in Thailand, by the way.). Malaysians seem to love their breadfruit as a vegetable, but is anyone here eating it as a fruit?
Buttery Ripe Breadfruit with Palm Sugar
Thoroughly chilled soft, very ripe breadfruit
a big knob of butter (not margarine!), about 3-4 Tbsp.
about 1/2 Tbsp gula Melaka
- Cut the breadfruit into slices about 1 inch/2cm thick.
- Heat the butter in a (preferably non-stick) over medium-high heat till sizzling. Add the gula Melaka and stir or swirl the pan to melt it a bit.
- Slide in the breadfruit and cook VERY briefly on each side. The fruit should remain soft.
- Remove the breadfruit to a plate and pour butter and gula over it. Serve immediately.