Familiar with jackfruit? If you are, I’m betting you’re already sold on this recipe. If not, and if you’re anything like me, you’re dubious. Why on earth would you want to seek out some weird fruit so you can slather it with Korean barbecue sauce and stuff it in a sandwich?
Photos by Emily Caruso
I’ll tell you why. Jackfruit is special. Jackfruit has a very unusual texture that allows it to work perfectly in place of meat in things like barbecue sandwiches. Think somewhere along the lines of an artichoke heart or heart of palm, only a bit more tender. This stuff is stringy, and you can pull it apart while cooking, just like you might be able to do with pulled pork. Unripe jackfruit, which is what this recipe calls for, doesn’t have much in the way of flavor, which is actually a good thing in dishes that include a super flavorful sauce, like Korean barbecue sauce.
Getting your hands on some jackfruit isn’t as tough as you may think. Most Asian markets carry it, and if you don’t have an Asian market nearby, you can always seek out some online. It’s sold in cans, so whenever I make a trip to an Asian market I tend to stock up, since I know they’ll keep for a long time. I mentioned that we’re using unripe jackfruit here, so watch out for this when you buy it. The ripe variety is too sweet for a recipe like this. Usually the cans of unripe jackfruit are labeled as “green” or “young” and the fruit is packed in water or brine. When I first ventured out to look for jackfruit to cook with I wasn’t sure what to buy, but fortunately I picked up the right variety, thinking young jackfruit sounded much more appetizing than old jackfruit.
Open up a can and you’ll see that the fruit is cut into little wedges for you. You’ll find a firmer section at the corner of each piece, surrounded by the stringy portion. Some people like to remove the core, and feel free to do so, but I like that it adds some variation in texture. In recipes calling for a shorter cook time, I’ll usually break the fruit apart with my hands a bit before getting started. For this dish we’ve got a bit of simmer time, during which the fruit gets very tender and you have the chance to pull it apart while cooking.
Pulled barbecue jackfruit sandwiches are one of my favorite ways to use jackfruit. I decided to shake things up and go with some spicy Korean barbecue sauce this time, because if there’s one way to make barbecue sauce better, it’s adding some heat and Asian flavor. The sauce is very flavorful indeed, so I topped it off with a cool and creamy tahini slaw, which also provides a nice crunch to contrast the soft jackfruit filling.
For the Korean Barbecue Jackfruit:
- 2-20 oz. cans young green jackfruit in brine or water
- ¾ cup water
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ⅓ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sriracha sauce or to taste
- 1 ½ teaspoons fresh grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon grape seed oil or another neutral flavor vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion sliced and separated into strips
- 2 garlic cloves minced
For the Tahini Slaw:
- ¼ cup tahini
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons agave or maple syrup
- 2-4 tablespoons water
- 3 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 red bell pepper cut into very thin strips
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro packed
- 2 scallions chopped
- 4-6 burger buns or sandwich rolls sliced open
To Make the Korean Barbecue Jackfruit:
- Drain and rinse jackfruit well. Blot pieces with a paper towel to remove excess water.
- In small bowl, stir together water, soy sauce, brown sugar, tomato paste, rice vinegar, sriracha and ginger.
- Place oil in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Sauté 3 minutes. Add jackfruit. Continue to sauté, breaking up pieces of jackfruit with a fork or spatula, until onion is softened and jackfruit is lightly browned in spots, about 3 minutes more. Add soy sauce mixture and bring to a simmer. Lower heat and allow to simmer 15 minutes, until sauce is thick and jackfruit is tender, stirring frequently. While simmering, pull pieces of jackfruit apart using a fork and add more water if the mixture becomes too thick.
To Make the Tahini Slaw:
- Stir tahini, rice vinegar, soy sauce and agave or maple syrup together in medium bowl. Thin with water until mixture is easy to stir, but still thick and creamy. Add cabbage, bell pepper, cilantro and scallions. Toss well to coat.
- Divide Korean barbecue jackfruit among buns and top with creamy tahini slaw.