Chef Craig Petrella, a protege
of Norman Van Aken at Norman’s at the Sunset Millenium,
Los Angeles, has long used the mango’s sweet bite in
his cooking. His mango habit dates back to his time in Miami.
“We used to
get these mangoes called ‘backyard mangoes,’ literally
from the backyards of farmers, friends, and family members,”
says Chef Petrella. Mango hunting became sport as he and his
buddies debated whose mangoes were the best. Now in California,
Chef Petrella continues to incorporate the fruit into his
menus, especially in chilled dishes and desserts.
Chef Petrella often turns to mangoes in his cooking because
of their versatility. They can be eaten raw or cooked, without
losing their integrity, he says. He cautions chefs to only
use a small amount in dishes because their potent flavor can
easily overpower dishes. His favorite mango pairing is with
semi-fatty sashimi-quality fish, but he has many others.
“I like to lay
thin slices of mango on top of a crispy hot noodle cake. The
warm cake brings out a great deal of flavor, not to mention
the texture of crispy cake [with] the delicate slivers of
the slightly warm mangoes,” he says.
The most popular mango varieties in the U.S. are Kent, Tommy
Atkins, Haden, Ataulfo, and Keitt mangoes—each has a
characteristic appearance, texture, and flavor. One general
rule of thumb is to go for the biggest ones in the pile. Mangoes
have a large seed in the middle, and the bigger the fruit,
the higher the fruit-to-seed ratio.
Timing is also something
to keep in mind when picking product. Mangoes are in-season
from May to September. For the best fruit, go directly to
a mango producer or wholesale shipper, or try an Asian market.
In the U.S., the big producers of mango are Florida, California
and Hawaii. Otherwise, the fruit is imported from a number
of other countries.
When selecting fruit,
examine the skin. Chef Petrella says that the ripe ones will
have a more yellowish-red color and the not-so-ripe ones will
be green or slightly yellow. If the color passes the test,
give the mango a squeeze.
“It should feel
almost soft but have a slight firmness to it,” Chef
Petrella says. “It also depends on what you’re
doing with it. If you are using it to pair with raw fish,
then it should be semi-firm and not rock hard. But if you
are cooking with it, then you should use (it) at the fully
Not everyone likes
their fruit ripe. On a global scale, green mangoes find their
way into pie fillings, jams, sauces, and chutneys. In Indonesia,
Malaysia and Singapore, unripe mango is used in a sour salad
called rujak and rojak, respectively. In the Philippines,
green mango is served with bagoong, a salty, fermented shrimp
paste. And in India, there’s a powder (amchur)
made from green mangoes that is used as both a seasoning and
Mangoes belong to the same family as poison ivy, so some people
have allergic reactions after touching the peel or sap. For
this reason, it is crucial to rinse mangoes before preparation.
Once rinsed, they can be peeled with a vegetable peeler or
cut with a knife. Chef Petrella recommends using a sharp,
thin slicing knife for ripe mangoes and a peeler for unripe
ones. Peeling mangoes is also made easier by first cutting
the flesh off the bottom and then standing the mango upright
on the cutting board.
Due to the giant seed in the middle of the fruit, cutting
mangoes requires some creativity. After peeling the fruit,
slice off the “cheeks” and scoop the flesh out
with a spoon. Alternately, use the “hedgehog method”:
cut large slices off of the mango and make hatch marks (vertical
and horizontal) in the slices down to the skin. Turn each
slice inside out, revealing a grid of mango cubes that can
be cut out. This method is especially useful for fruit salad.
Professional chefs should also consider investing in a mango
splitter, which takes care of the dirty work in a single motion—it
has an oblong blade that simultaneously removes the seed and
cuts the fruit in half.
If you want the flavor
of mango without the hassle, look for mango nectar, purée,
and frozen fruit. Dried mango can also be a good solution,
especially for baked goods, but be sure to re-hydrate it for
about four hours before use. If using fresh fruit, take the
time to buy and cut extra, and freeze it for later.
incorporates raw mango into his food, but he also tries to
test the limits of the fruit, preparing meat with it, using
it as a glaze, and serving it as an ice alongside fish.