In 2008, ackee — a namesake ingredient in Jamaica's national dish — was again approved for import into the United States. For most of the previous 35 years it had been banned due to concerns that a toxin, produced by the unripe fruit, might find its way into canned ackee. Cans found on U.S. grocery shelves today have been processed by companies whose food-safety systems are screened by the Food and Drug Administration.
Without such screening, fresh Jamaican ackee also finds its way stateside and, occasionally, makes an appearance in West Indian markets. The specimens shown here, which I stumbled upon in summer 2009, were brought north by a vendor who explained the procedure for preparing fresh ackee, which is ripe (and safe for the following steps) only when it "yawns" open to expose the pale, fleshy arils inside. First, explained the vendor, remove the reddish or rosy outer rind and discard it; also remove and discard all tissue that connects the arils to the rind. From the end of each aril, pull free and discard the single knobby seed, which is toxic even in ripe fruit; if one is not visible, pry under or cut into the aril to locate and remove the underdeveloped seed. Split each aril lengthwise and remove the remaining bit of connective tissue.
The arils must then be boiled in salted water for 10 minutes, till soft. After the water has been discarded, the arils can be used in any recipe calling for the canned fruit. To be sure, ackee's mild flavor and eggy texture may not seem worth the fuss, but for the moment the point is moot. Unusually cool weather has pushed back this year's harvest, and in 2010, fresh Jamaican ackee may not appear in New York until late fall.
Jamaican produce vendor