Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mango mania

Hurrah! Mangoes are around - and abundant!

Now, I admit that it's not hard to find some kind of mango most of the year. The trouble is, most of the year that mango is a Tommy Atkins, sometimes called a blush mango because of its deceptively rosy glow. Tommy Atkins mangoes generally have pale, insipid flesh, acidic flavor and none of the lushness of great tropical fruit. They hint at great flavor but rarely deliver. Unfortunately, they're the de facto mango for most people in the US because they're the supermarket standard.

If this was the only mango I knew, I wouldn't love mangoes!

Fortunately, there are alternatives.

Check out this fruit stand in a place where people are connoisseurs of tropical fruit - the Bronx! This us Mango Central: nestled among the pineapple, papayas, avocados and quanepas (in the center square), it's all mango, all the time. Just note the numerous varieties! On the left side, Haitian (aka Francis) mangoes; on the bottom, Tommy Atkins; next to Tommy Atkins, tiny Dominican; above the quanepas, Ataulfo (aka Champagne or Manila) mangoes; and above the papayas, either Keitt or Kent mangoes (yes, I admit that I can't tell the difference).

We expect to see varieties of apples and grapes, so why not some choice of mangoes?

My favorites are the Ataulfo and Kent/Keitt varieties.

You might recall Ataulfo as my friend Thom's go-to variety in her Mango Agar Dessert recipe. Good choice! Ataulfos are smooth, not at all stringy and have a great, light taste.

The Champagne gang

Ataulfo pits are extremely flat, so you get a lot of mango for the size.

The weird, whiskery remains

I took this picture for perspective.

Of course, what really matters is flavor. Ataulfos have a light and delicious sweetness. One caution: Ataulfos peel, though smooth and thin, is very astringent.  I have seen folks chomping into these mangoes then spitting out the skin, but removing it before eating is a much pleasanter option.

Cut the mango in long "cheeks" (aim for as close to half as you can without hitting the pit) then remove the peel from the cheeks. Or use a spoon or melon baller to scoop out mango balls.

Next up are Kents/Keitts. Both are large fruit that can be ripe even when their skins are dark green. The big difference, in the US, anyway, is that Keitts are often grown in the US (and Mexico) with a peak season in later summer and early fall. Keitts are generally imported from Mexico and South America and are available January - March and again in the summer. Keitts especially can stay quite dark while attaining full ripeness.

I first became acquainted with K/K mangoes when a fruit vendor gave me a sample of what looked like a particularly robust - and unusually tasty - dark green Tommy Atkins. Huh? This mango was better than the ripest dark blushing Tommy I had ever had! It all made sense when I learned that I was eating an entirely different variety. 

The key I have found with K/K is to make sure the mango is soft and feels ripe, however dark the peel may be. (Many tropical countries have traditions of using under-ripe fruit for salads, pickles, or cooked condiments, but I'm going to leave this area unexplored for now.) A ripe Kent or Keitt mango is lusciousness itself.

You may be thinking, Huh! I think I've had a Tommy Atkins mango and it was delicious!  This could certainly be true. Or, more likely, especially if the mangowasn't fibrous, the Tommy mango could have been another variety entirely called a Haden. The Mango Maven, an expert on all things, upgraded her rating of Hadens (from "3rd runner up"). Her antipathy to Tommy Atkins remains in place, by the way: as As she writes in "The Trouble With Tommy Atkins," "Leave the Tommy Atkins mangoes on the shelves. When the Kents or Keitts or Manilas [Ataulfos] come in, get them while you can!! Eventually, produce buyers will get the message."

Of course, there's another school of thought entirely, one in which the best mango is the mango in front of you that someone else has peeled and trimmed. To these "Love the one you're with, baby" adherents, Manhattan - far away from the California and Florida growing fields - offers a unique welcome. The street vendor/fruit stand culture here includes many mango vendors who sell mango "roses" (mangoes on a stick with a half-dozen vertical cuts that turn the mango flesh into "petals") and cut, bagged mango slices. Some vendors include the pit with some surrounding flesh as if it were a particularly thick slice and some toss the pits away and just sell true slices. Salt and hot sauce are optional additions. Bon appetit!

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