Flora of Indonesia

Thick skinned

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am

A friend once commented that the pomelo looks like a pumped-up, steroid-popping grapefruit. In reality, the fruit itself isn't that huge - it's just surrounded by a thick layer of natural 'packaging'; depending on the variety, the skin can be upwards of 2cm thick. The fruit is so heavy that growers must tie each one in a net to a branch; if they don't, the fruit might fall off the tree before it's ripe.

Choose a pomelo that feels heavy for its size, otherwise it will be dry. A good pomelo is one that's juicy, with large, succulent beads that pop in the mouth. The flavour is mildly sweet and often tastes vaguely of strawberries. To peel the fruit, use a sharp knife to cut off the top of the rind, trying not to cut into the flesh. Score the skin in wide segments from the top to the base of the fruit, then peel it off. Remove the thick, tough, inedible membrane that surrounds each segment. The colour of the flesh ranges from pale yellow to medium pink.

Most people just discard the pomelo rind but it's delicious when used in a time-consuming Cantonese preparation. Use only very thick pieces of the rind because it shrinks when cooked. Soak the skin in water for several days, changing the water and squeezing the liquid from the skin each day - this softens the rind and removes the bitterness. Braise it in strong broth flavoured with dried seafood, then dust with dried shrimp roe before serving.

For a Thai salad, break the pomelo segments (membranes removed) into large pieces. Mix together some coconut milk, fish sauce, a little sugar, minced bird's-eye chillies and fresh lime juice and heat in a pan. Pour this over shredded cooked chicken and toss gently, then mix with the pomelo and top with fried shallots and sprigs of fresh coriander.

Pomelo is also delicious in the refreshing Cantonese dessert yeung ji gum lo. Puree fresh mango and mix with some milk. Chill the mango milk, then mix with sago (cooked until tender), diced mango and a few pomelo segments that have been broken into small pieces.