When I was in St. Lucia I learned that there are mangoes and then there are mangoes. The only mangoes the locals deemed fit for eating out of hand were ripe from the tree ‘mangoes Julie,” silky smooth and tasting a bit like pineapple. Everything else, and there were plenty of mango trees, was relegated to some lesser purpose.
When I returned home I realized that the Tommy Atkins mangoes stocked in US grocery stores are the culinary equivalent of the Red Delicious apples sold on the street corners of St. Lucia. If you’ve never had an apple before, you might well consider a Red Delicious apple from far away Washington State a delicacy, and the same goes for the Tommy Atkins mango here in the decidedly non-tropical Pacific Northwest. But Tommy Atkins mangoes are nothing special in the mango realm.
According to The Great Mango Book: A Guide with Recipes: “Thomas Atkins submitted the fruit to the variety committee of the Florida Mango Forum multiple times during the 1950s, which rejected it due to its unremarkable eating qualities and considerable fiber in the flesh.” They’re tough, not very sweet, and so stringy that you need to follow a mango munch with a tooth-flossing session. St. Lucians wouldn’t have given them a second glance.
There are reasons for the Tommy Atkins to be popular in commerce, but superior taste isn’t one of them. They’re valued for their long shelf life and their ability to withstand shipping without bruising. The Great Mango Book concludes that “Given its limitations of flavor and worse, its all too often off flavor (resulting from softening and decay around the seed) the world searches for its replacement.”
I’ve never seen a Julie mango for sale in the US, but recently I’ve found something comparable: the Ataulfo mango. The Toronto Star described the flavor of the Ataulfo as “the love child of peach, banana, pineapple and butter.” They have light yellow skin, velvety smooth flesh with no stringiness at all, and much more Vitamin C than other cultivars. They are also sold as champagne, honey, or baby mangoes, and are available in the US in spring and summer.
I’ve been picking them up six at a time from Costco. Not local, not organic, I know. It’s the low season here for local fruit. I’ve been making lots of things with the mangos lately, including mango salsa, mango crumble, grilled mangoes, and of course, eating them ripe out of hand!
If you’ve never had to prepare a mango, here’s how. First make sure your mango is ripe. You’ll feel it give slightly under your finger, and it may smell ripe. Now to cut it. There’s no really graceful way.
Mangoes have a long, oval stone in the middle that does not come free. If you cut too close to it you’ll get a bit of serious fiber along with the mango flesh. So hold the mango upright. You’ll see that it has a flattened shape. The pit (or stone) runs parallel to the flattened sides. Using a sharp knife, cut the mango from top to bottom along the axis of the flattened side, avoiding the pit. Now do the same on the other side. You should now have three sections, the two mango ‘cheeks’ from the sides and a thinner middle section with the pit.
Cut the skin away from the middle section and cut the remaining mango off of the pit with a small paring knife. There will still be a little left. You can be primal here and eat the last bit of mango off the pit out of hand.
Now the side sections. There are two methods here. I use a spoon to remove the mango from the skin, then eat it out of hand or chop it up for a recipe. The other way is to use a knife to crosscut the mango while it’s still in the skin, cutting the mango but not cutting through the skin. Then when you remove the mango it will come out in squares, as in this video on how to prepare mango.
Have you seen the Ataulfo mangoes for sale where you live? How about Julie mangoes? Alphonso mangos from India are said to be very similar to Ataulfo mangoes. You’ll often find canned Alphonso mango puree at your local Indian grocery, and that can be another good choice for making mango drinks and desserts. What’s the favorite mango variety in your part of the world?