My hometown (and home for most of my life) is the barbecue capital of the world (warning: dead pig). Despite the fact that I haven’t actually dined on swine in nearly 15 years, I still consider myself an expert. It just comes from growing up in Memphis. Though I wasn’t much of a fan of meat even as a kid, I always liked barbecue. Perfectly moist, smoky (but not too smoky) and with a bit of char.
I gave up barbecue—where I come from, barbecue is pulled pork—when I gave up all the other critters, though I admit that I still love the smell that wafts from restaurants as I drive by. Really, it’s the fire and the charcoal, not the meat that I smell. But recently, I was able to add barbecue back to my plate thanks to the discovery of young green jackfruit in brine.
Apparently, some folks have known about this “vegetable meat” for quite some time, but it was only brought to my attention last year when Riffs Fine Street Food blew my mind with their vegetarian version of Korean barbecue tacos. I had to ask several times if it was really vegetarian. The texture was so close to what I remembered. It is bizarre. But it’s important to note that it has to be “young green jackfruit in brine.” Do not mistakenly get jackfruit in syrup (which is easier to find in the Asian/international groceries; in Nashville, I've had the best luck finding the jackfruit in brine at Interasian).
My buddies at Riffs showed me how to make the Korean style barbecue, but you can also make it with your favorite homemade or storebought barbecue sauce. If you want to add some Korean flavor, the key is sagyejeol ssamjang, a thick seasoned soybean paste (in the green box). Otherwise, just use your favorite barbecue sauce. I like to add a little honey to the sauce we have to a) make it sweeter and b) help it to be sticky and get a better char when it cooks. But it’s not necessary.
The real trick, though is getting the texture right. That’s why there is a second step to this process—baking it in the oven. You don’t have to do it to eat the barbeuce, but the texture is not going to be quite right. If you follow the recipe, it will be easy to fool even the pickiest barbecue aficianado into thinking they’re eating real pork. (Maybe.)
More great news: the young jackfruit is is low-calorie and and low fat. Unfortunately, it is also (according to the label) low protein. So this is definitely more of a treat than the base of a nutritious meal. Much like pork barbecue.
Special note: be sure to check the label on any barbecue sauce you use; many contain Worcestershire sauce and/or other non-vegetarian ingredients.
Barbecue Jackfruit - Vegetarian Pulled Pork
1 20 ounce can young green jackfruit in brine
½ cup barbecue sauce
¼ cup honey or maple syrup (optional)
Drain the water from the can and rinse and drain the jackfruit in a large collander several times (see comments; this is very important). Squeeze each piece to remove as much water as possible. Transfer the bowl to a clean workspace or mat and pull apart all the pieces into shreds, removing and disposing of the seeds (they look like beige, flat grapes).
Place the jackfruit in a large skillet over medium heat and cook out more of the water. After about 10 minutes or so, mix in the sauce (add more to taste or add more after it’s cooked) and honey/syrup (if using). Stir occasionally and simmer for about another 10 minutes or so.
Then place the jackfruit on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes or until you see some char on the tips. Check it to make sure it’s as dry as you prefer and cook longer, if necessary.
Serve on your favorite bun, slider, taco, topped with slaw…however you’d eat pulled pork!