Pass the Pomelo

California pommelo

California pommelo

Whether you spell it pomelo or pummelo, we’re talking one BIG piece of fruit.

“It’s hard to get people to try them,” admits Gary Laux, a fourth-generation California citrus grower, “but don’t be overwhelmed by their size — once you get inside, that’s where all the fun’s at.”

Laux has been growing the world’s largest citrus, with its ridiculously thick greenish-yellow skin and pretty pink flesh, for 20 years. He caught the pomelo bug from his neighbour, Harrison Smith, who learned of the ancient fruit from a brother who served in the military in Southeast Asia.

Toronto is a big market for Laux’s fruit, sold under the Sunkist brand and available now for Chinese New Year (Feb. 19), when it’s exchanged as a symbol of prosperity.

Imported Asian pomelos have been plentiful here for months, wrapped in plastic and colourful mesh. Price does not determine quality, I discovered. My white-fleshed $1.88 pomelo from China was more flavourful than the $3.99 Vietnamese buoi da xanh, a pale, bland version of the “sweet pink” fruit advertised on its fancy tag.

Pomelo’s sheer size — up to a foot in diameter — and the brute strength needed to remove the spongy rind and pry apart the grapefruit-like segments doesn’t deter Asians who grew up with the gentle giant and can’t get enough of its fragrant aroma and mild, sweet taste.

But rising demand in the past two years has convinced Laux that many others are now enjoying his fruit.

“Because it has such a thick lining there’s a learning curve in how to eat it,” he says. “But once you get past that and get inside, it’s similar to a grapefruit without the acidity.”

Pomelos are best eaten fresh as a snack — one fruit serves a family — but they’re also a treat in Asian-inspired salads, where the firm, dry chunks hold their shape beautifully.

If you manage to remove the skin in one piece, you can join the legions on YouTube fitting their babies and cats with football-like pomelo helmets!

Buy and store:

  • California’s pink-fleshed pomelos are available from January to March, while Asian varieties, from white to deep pink, are around much of the year, especially during Chinese holidays.
  • Choose the heaviest fruit and don’t worry about skin colour, which starts out green and turns yellow as the season progresses. Either way, the fruit inside should be fragrant and sweet.
  • Store on the counter for a few days, then refrigerate for several weeks.
  • If you don’t finish the peeled fruit, cover the uneaten part with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several days.

Prep:

  • Cut off both ends down to the pink or white flesh.
  • With a sharp paring knife, score the skin every few inches, just to the flesh.
  • One by one, peel off the rind in each section, from top to bottom.
  • Use your thumbs to dig into the centre and pull fruit apart.
  • Peel off all the white pith and membrane, using a paring knife as needed.
  • Separate into segments to eat as a snack or use in recipes.

Use:

  • Serve peeled pomelos as a snack, incorporate in desserts or toss in salads.
  • Cut in half horizontally and eat like a grapefruit.
  • Laux skewers pomelo chunks with teriyaki chicken on the barbecue, where the heat caramelizes the fruit.
  • Juice pomelo for cocktails, mocktails or your morning juice. Since it won’t fit in a standard juicer, whirl fruit in a blender first.
  • The rind is widely used in Asians preserves and candy.
  • Zest the fragrant rind and substitute for lemon or lime zest in recipes.
  • To perfume your house with a jasmine aroma, place skin and rind in a pot, cover with water and bring to a simmer.
Spicy shrimp pummel salad

Spicy shrimp pummelo salad

Pomelo Shrimp Salad With Spicy Peanut Vinaigrette

Wake up your taste buds with this refreshing salad, adapted from Sunkist. Substitute cooked, shredded chicken, if you like, and use regular grapefruit if you can’t find a pomelo.

Spicy Peanut Vinaigrette:

3 tbsp (45 mL) creamy peanut butter

4 tsp (20 mL) granulated sugar

1/3 cup (80 mL) unseasoned rice wine or white wine vinegar

1-1/2 to 3 tsp (7 to 15 mL) Sriracha (Asian hot sauce), or to taste

1 tbsp (15 mL) soy sauce

3 tbsp (45 mL) vegetable oil

Salad:

1 pomelo

1/2 greenhouse cucumber, cut in thin circles

1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced

12-oz (340-390g) pkg coleslaw mix or 4 cups (1L) thinly sliced napa cabbage

1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped

12 oz (340 g) large or medium cooked shrimp, tails removed

1/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts, chopped

For vinaigrette, in small bowl whisk together peanut butter, sugar and vinegar until well combined. Whisk in hot sauce, soy sauce and oil. Make up to a day ahead and refrigerate.

For salad, cut off top and bottom ends of pomelo with sharp knife. Peel and separate into segments, removing all white pith and membrane. Cut each segment into bite-sized pieces.

In large bowl, toss cucumber, red pepper, cabbage mixture or cabbage, mint and cooked shrimp. Add pomelo and vinaigrette; toss gently. Just before serving, sprinkle with peanuts.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 6 to 8

First published in The Toronto Star Jan. 7, 2015

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