All About the Sweet Pineapple

Here's how to buy 'em, store 'em, carve 'em and prepare the fruit

The pineapple was once so difficult to cultivate that gentry in 18th-century England were held in high esteem if they could grow the fickle fruit in their hothouses.

Today, modern techniques have made the pineapple abundant; it's also more fragrant and much less perishable. The fruit is exceptionally sweet -- too sweet for some -- and has a bright, even lurid, yellow color.

Little-known fact:
The pineapple is an aggregate fruit, made up of individual fruits clustered around ``eyes.''

How to select:
Some say a pineapple is ripe if a spiky leaf comes loose when pulled from the top. Others recommend that if you are looking for sweetest fruit, the color beneath the diamond pattern should be bright yellow without a trace of green.
More certain indicators? Leaves should be bright green and sprightly, not pallid, brown or limp, and the fruit should feel heavy for its size, yield slightly to pressure but be devoid of soft or brown spots. Look for a faintly fruity aroma that exudes from the stem, but beware a sweetish, fermented odor.

Available year-round, the pineapple's peak season is March through July.

How to store:
Keep unripe pineapples at room temperature. Although pineapples do not ripen once removed from the stem, the acidity diminishes with time, thus creating an illusion of increased sweetness.
Ripe pineapples should be refrigerated for as short a time as possible, preferably fewer than three days. After that, the texture tends to turn mushy.

How to carve:
There are many methods, depending on the desired result. The most common is to start by slicing the leafy plume and the stem ends from the fruit.
To remove the tough exterior, steady the pineapple upright on a cutting board, then slice downward just below the surface of the rind, following the curve of the fruit. (Do not try to remove the "eyes" yet.) Rotate and repeat.

Finally, remove the eyes with a short knife by making V-shaped cuts around each.

To slice or chop, place the fruit on its side. To slice, cut it crosswise into 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick slices, then cut each slice in half. To chop, cut the fruit lengthwise into six or eight wedges, then cut each wedge crosswise into pieces.

Trim and discard the woody core from each piece.

How to prepare:
Reserve the pineapple juices by carving the fruit on a rimmed cutting board. Not only do the juices make a sweet-tart addition to a cocktail, but they also can keep other produce (apples, pears, avocados) from turning brown.
The juices also contain an enzyme that breaks down protein, making them a valuable tenderizing agent in marinades. The same enzymes aid digestion. (The juice may also make the skin on the fingers and around the lips tingle; this is harmless.)

Individual pineapples vary in sweetness. The further the slice is from the plume (and the closer to the stem), the sweeter the fruit tends to be. Reserve less ripe portions as a garnish, or pair with other ripe tropical fruits, such as papaya and mango chunks, tossed with a syrup of lemon juice, sugar and mint or basil or topped with a dollop of plain yogurt and drizzled with honey. Fruit that is slightly overripe or mushy may be used to flavor smoothies or marinades.

Diced pineapple also finds its way into fruit salsas for fish, poultry or pork. Some chefs prefer a sprinkle of salt to draw out the acidity.

Served warm, the pineapple is sublime. Traditionalists should look beyond the classic pineapple upside-down cake and substitute thin slices in a tarte tatin.

A quick turn under the broiler, in a saute pan or on the grill works wonders. During cooler weather, caramelize pineapple under the broiler by sprinkling slices with a sweetener (granulated or brown sugar, a sugar syrup or even honey) and heating until brown and bubbly, 5 to 8 minutes. Or simmer it in butter, brown sugar, a pinch of spice and a splash of liqueur and use as a topping for ice cream or rice pudding.

To grill, heat wedges on a lightly oiled rack until barely charred, about 2 minutes per side.

Or, serve chunks nestled in a pineapple shell that has been split in half lengthwise, green plumes still attached, and carved from within, leaving a layer of pineapple intact against the rind.

Source: Renee Schettler  


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