Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jackfruit-infused rum

You might want to stand back a little for this one--it's liable to get messy. Oh, who am I kidding? It already has.

See that big, watermelon-sized fruit thing there with the knobby skin and the large butcher knife sticking out of it? That's a jackfruit. Jackfruit grow in the tropics. They're really cool, and HEB has started carrying them locally when in season. They cost around $1.25 a pound, and that one clocked in at around 11 pounds. For the record, this was one of the smaller ones available. One there was at least twice the size. They're big.

Okay, you may be thinking, but why are they so cool? Thanks for asking! This is the fruit that the Juicy Fruit Gum flavor was inspired by. Some people mistake them for the other big, spiny fruit from the tropics, the durian, but they aren't closely related. And the durian is notorious for stinking. Jackfruit smell wonderfully tropical when cut open. See those yellow seed arils in the photo above? That's the good stuff. Think of them as a non-juicy pomegranate and you get the idea. Jackfruit has a fantastic, strong and pleasing tropical fruit flavor. I first tried one about two years ago and was blown away. Almost immediately, I started thinking about how to incorporate this great tropical fruit into some sort of cocktail. Surprisingly (or not) there are very few recipes online. One said to muddle several of those yellow arils in a glass before adding the other ingredients. When fruit is "muddled," what you're doing is mashing it up to release the juice and flavors. Trouble is, jackfruit has an unusual texture. It's firm and rubbery. That sounds awful, but is kinda cool to eat. Sort of like fruit leather that's really serious about being fresh fruit leather. Great for eating, but it resists muddling like you wouldn't believe. Fine. So I looked for another recipe, and found one that suggested blending it into a smoothie. No dice. I ran the blender on liquify for five minutes and the jackfruit remained grainy bits suspended within the overall liquid matrix, decidedly unsmooth. Completely unacceptable for cocktail use. Was I out of options? No! If I couldn't use the jackfruit directly in a cocktail, then I would do so indirectly--through an infusion!

When you harvest the arils from a jackfruit, it's best to wear gloves. See that white, milky substance welling up where the fruit was split open? That's raw latex. Jackfruit's lousy with the stuff. The riper the fruit is, the less latex there seems to be, and this one wasn't quite as ripe as it should've been, but I got impatient. The latex isn't harmful (unless you have an allergy to it) but is super sticky. Best to use gloves.

Collecting the arils is simple, but time-consuming. They have to be pulled from that fibrous pith. You don't eat the white stuff.

This is an aril removed from the mother fruit. Bright yellow, rubbery and tasty. They smell very nice.

Slice it open to remove the seed. Guess what? Jackfruit seeds are edible. They're not entirely dissimilar to chestnuts. I found a recipe for sliced, sauteed jackfruit seed the last time I did this, and that was delicious, but time-consuming. This time I'm thinking of trying a boiled jackfruit seed recipe, kinda like boiling peanuts.

This is the results of just one quarter of that jackfruit I started with. That's a huge mug overruning with arils. I had switch to a much larger bowl. I ended up with 4 pounds of arils from that 11 pound fruit, once all was said and done. I didn't weigh the seeds, but that's at least another 1.5 pounds. The waste went out to compost.

Here's where things get interesting. Those rubbery arils, I wanted to encourage the separation of the juice from the pulp. As I've pointed out above, this rubbery fruit does not give up its juice willingly. So I threw it in the deep freeze. Froze them solid to rupture the cells within, which is an old homebrew trick to liberate more juice. It worked, to an extent. The arils never got mushy like a peach or strawberry that had been frozen, but they lost their stiffness and were much more floppy. And also wet and juicy. The aromatics of the released juice were pretty strong. The infusion was looking more and more encouraging.

For the liquor to be infused, I chose Castillo silver rum. This may cause some to recoil in horror, because Castillo is not a top-shelf rum by any measure. It's produced by the Bacardi company as a budget rum, which many associate with trash can punch and/or rotgut. But here's the thing--Bacardi filters their top-tier rums of much of their flavor so as to compete with vodka in the market. They don't filter Castillo so much, which results in a liquor that some consider superior to Bacardi's "good" rums. It certainly has more flavor, but remains a light, Puerto Rican-style silver rum that has little to no aging. I used to use Castillo as my main mixer quite often until I discovered Cruzan rums hit those same notes in a much more polished fashion despite being only a dollar or so more expensive. So now I use Cruzan. But for this infusion, I wanted a flavor bomb. I didn't want a lot of subtle rum notes to get overwhelmed by the jackfruit flavor, but at the same time, I wanted an infused rum and all that implies, so vodka was right out. Castillo struck me as a good compromise, in that it was a decent but cheap silver rum that would serve as a host for the jackfruit. Some may argue with my run selection for this, but damned if I'm wasting the qualities of a good smoky demerara rum on this infusion, setting up a major clash of dominant flavors by using a funky dark Jamaican, and I don't see how something like a Don Q Crystal would yield any real advantage. So, Castillo it is.

That's a 1.75 liter bottle of Castillo, by the way. I added a cup of the rum and just shy of a pound of jackfruit arils to the blender. I repeated this three times, using not quite three pounds of jackfruit arils in total. If you're thinking "Holy moly! That's a lot of jackfruit!" you would be correct. It is a lot of jackfruit. I'm going for a flavor bomb, remember?

And the blending has begun. Encouragingly, I heard none of the chunky, crunchy, grinding sounds that resulted from my attempting to puree the non-frozen jackfruit from before.

I did not attempt to make a smoothie. Instead, I just wanted the fruit chopped and pulverized enough to release more juice and accelerate the infusion process.

I poured the resulting slurry into a gallon-sized jar. The consistency was pretty much exactly what I was going for.

The end result is a silver Puerto Rican rum with a heck of a lot of jackfruit sharing the same space. I'm keeping the infusion in the back of my refrigerator, taking it out every day to agitate the mixture and keep those juices flowing, so to speak. After several days, the rum's already taken on a bold, fruity characteristic and is sweeter as well. I hadn't thought forward enough to consider the fruit sugars would have that effect, but I shouldn't be surprised. In homebrew, when I add fruit to beer or mead, the sugars get eaten by the yeast to make alcohol, leaving only the fruit flavor behind. That's how you can have fruity wines that are dry. But with this liquor infusion, there is no yeast at work, so the sugars as well as the fruit flavors are absorbed and released by the rum. That should work well for mixing cocktails, but I'll have to pay close attention to balance. I want a flavor bomb, not a sugar bomb. I expect a little of this stuff will go a long way.

This weekend sometime I shall strain the infusion through cheesecloth to remove the solids, and commence to experimenting with new cocktail recipes incorporating this new creation. I will report any notable discoveries here. Cheers!

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