You know that a particular food has truly "arrived" when it gets its own promotional board. There already exists, for example, the Popcorn Institute, the American Egg Board, the Tea Council of the USA, the National Meat Association, the American Cheese Society - the list seems endless. So put your hands together and give it up for the newest food to get its own association: the mango. The National Mango Board (www.mangoinfo.org) is here to tell you about the glories of the "the world's most consumed fruit."
The main obstacle for the mango folks to overcome is probably not in "selling" the taste; like the coconut and the pineapple, the mango screams "tropics" on the tongue. The problem is that many consumers consider the mango a bit of a mystery fruit. How do you tell when it's ripe? How do you store it? And - the big question for anyone who has ever tried - how do you cut the darn thing? (I have a friend who calls the fruits "mangles" because of the results he gets when he tries to chop them.)
A search of the mango-board Web site, along with cookbooks and other food references, turns up answers to questions that have been plaguing the would-be mango buyer.
VARIETIES: There are at least 500 varieties, but you are likely to find two to six in your supermarket. The most widely available are Tommy/Atkins and Keitt (sometimes sold as "Kit"). Also: Ataulfo, Francine, Haden and Kent.
SEASON: Year-'round. Some varieties, like the Keitt, have a five-month season (May through September), but the Tommy/Atkins grows 12 months of the year.
DETERMINING RIPENESS: Don't go by color. The mango should have a sweet scent from the stem end. Squeeze it gently. It should give a little but not smush. If you buy an under-ripe mango, leave it at room temperature to ripen; you can place it in a paper bag to hasten the process.
STORAGE: For under-ripe mangos, see above. For ripe mangos, wrap and refrigerate, or peel, chop, wrap and freeze.
CUTTING: Place on a cutting board, narrow-side up. Slice off the two "cheeks" alongside the pit. Then turn the mango wide-side down and slice off the narrow pieces that remain. Peel and cut as needed. Chew the remaining mango shreds off the pit. Wear a bib.
ORDERING: You can mail-order excellent mangos. One source is the legendary produce stand Robert Is Here in Homestead, Fla. (www.robertishere.com; 305-246-1592).
RECIPES: As mangos gain in popularity, they are popping up in many new cookbooks, such as "The Big Book of Fish & Shellfish" by Fred Thompson (Chronicle Books, 2006), from which the crab-salad recipe, below, is taken. The other recipes here come from the mango board and from my own files. Another good recipe source is www.freshmangos.com.
GRILLED CHICKEN WITH MANGO GINGER CHUTNEY
1 large ripe mango, peeled, pitted and pureed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 to 2-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
For the chutney:
2 large ripe mangos, peeled, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons lime zest
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Place the pureed mango, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a resealable plastic bag. Seal and shake very gently to mix. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Pierce surface of meat with a fork and place in the bag with the marinade. Seal and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Combine all chutney ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir well. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer over low heat for a few minutes more to cook off excess liquid; let cool. (May be made up to two weeks ahead. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.)
Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill for 5 to 7 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Serve immediately, with chutney spooned over the top.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Recipe from the National Mango Board, www.mangoinfo.org
CRAB SALAD WITH AVOCADO AND MANGO
1/4 cup diced red onion, plus 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons finely diced celery
2 tablespoons peeled, seeded and finely diced cucumber
1 pound lump crabmeat (blue or Dungeness), picked over for shells
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus several sprigs for garnish
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and sliced
In a medium bowl, toss the onion (both the diced and the sliced) with the chives, celery and cucumber. Gently fold in the crabmeat.
In another bowl, whisk together the citrus juices, oil, cilantro, mustard, salt and pepper. Pour over the crab mixture and gently fold in to blend.
Divide the avocado and mango slices evenly among four chilled plates. Divide the crabmeat mixture evenly, placing it atop the avocado and mango. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, if desired. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe from "The Big Book of Fish & Shellfish" by Fred Thompson (Chronicle Books, 2006)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
5 ripe mangos
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
For garnish (optional):
thin slices of fresh lime
Cut the zest off the lemon in large strips. (Use a vegetable peeler.) In a small saucepan set over medium heat, combine the zest, water and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature. Remove the lemon zest, cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, up to several weeks.
Cut four of the mangos, peel them and dice the flesh. In the bowl of a food processor, or in a blender, combine the chilled sugar syrup with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, the lime juice and chopped mangos. Puree until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Freeze in ice-cream maker, according to manufacturer's instructions.
Peel and slice the remaining mangos, and serve with the mango sorbet. Garnish with a thin slice of lime or a mint leaf, if desired.
Yield: about 6 cups
Marialisa Calta is the author of "Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family" (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to www.marialisacalta.com.