Why The Biggest Loser?
Let me explain the title.
“Biggest” because the pomelo is the biggest in the citrus fruit family.
“Loser” because the pomelo is a more palatable – and, I might add, still effective – alternative to face-puckeringly sour grapefruit which features so heavily in The Biggest Loser weight loss plans.
Did you know that the grapefruit is the result of a pomelo–orange coupling?
Though it’s beyond me how those two pleasant-tasting fruit could produce a descendant as consistently sour as the grapefruit.
As if coming across an obstreperous child with two zen-calm parents, I look at the grapefruit and marvel, “Now where did that come from?”
What’s not to love?
Back to our Fruit of the Day: the pomelo. Also known as my favourite pick-and-pique fruit.
Meaning: when I encounter pomelos while conducting food tours, I love picking one up and getting my guests to inhale its citronella fragrance. This unique fruit never fails to pique every guest’s interest.
Apart from passing around and playing with the fruit (more on that later), I am in fact very fond of eating pomelos.
- the pomelo’s floral, non-acidic taste – it almost feels like it won’t dissolve my tooth enamel like my dentist says oranges and pineapples do
- eating pomelo segments unadorned (in Thailand, you can buy ready-to-eat, already peeled pomelo segments – joy oh joy)
- discovering pomelo sacs in salads
- drinking pomelo rind tea
- making starfish-shaped pomelo skin, just to break the Don’t-Play-With-Your-Food rule
- eating braised pomelo skin saturated with concentrated flavours from dried Chinese foodstuffs.
Fruity equivalent of nose-to-tail eating
It’s where the cook uses every part of the animal, so there is no wastage.
This traditional thrifty practice is undergoing a revival, championed by Michelin-starred English chef Fergus Henderson of St John restaurant, London. He uses the pig’s snout and tail and everything in between.
May I present the fruity equivalent of nose-to-tail eating: how to use every part of the pomelo.
But first, some quick facts, and a lesson on how to peel a pomelo like an expert.
4 Quick Facts about Pomelo
#1: The pomelo is the largest citrus fruit.
The ones in Southeast Asia are as big as soccer balls and weigh over 1.5kg. For once, the Australian counterparts are smaller.
Below: Pictures comparing the pomelo to my head and to an average lemon.
#2: The pomelo is a serious contender in the aroma stakes.
How do I know that?
Well, for starters, the pomelo has a starring role in a designer perfume called – wait for it – Jo Loves…Pomelo | A Fragrance. A designer moniker to match the £95 designer price.
More to the point, a pomelo’s natural scent fills spaces. I had a pomelo and four famously fragrant quince in my fruit bowl, yet all I could smell in my kitchen was the pomelo.
When airing out a seldom-used spare room for a guest, put a pomelo in it for a couple of hours. Its natural and delicate fragrance freshens the room without irritating sensitive noses.
#3: Pomelo leaves = Ghostbusters.
The Chinese believe that the pomelo tree is a sacred plant, so its leaves are spiritually cleansing. For example, after attending a funeral, a traditional practice to ward off any loitering malevolent spirits is to bathe in water containing pomelo leaves.
#4: A perfect pomelo is juicy, mildly sweet and intensely floral.
A good pomelo tastes like the love child of an orange blossom and a lychee.
But watch out for inferior specimens – these can be tasteless, bitter, sour or fibrously dry. For tips on picking a good pomelo, see The Big Question below.
The Big Question: How To Choose a Good Pomelo
1. Pedigree. “Is it from Tambun?” That’s the question I’d ask if I were in Singapore or Malaysia. Tambun is a Malaysian district famous for its pomelos, not far from Ipoh city. Every Tambun pomelo I’ve ever eaten has been divine. If I had an unlimited supply of these, I honestly believe I wouldn’t miss chocolate.
2. Weight. It’s that old chestnut: “Find one that is heavy for its size.” So that it’s juicy. Nothing worse than dry, shrivelled segments of pomelo.
3. Smells can be deceiving. This doesn’t help much. Even sour or bitter pomelos have nicely scented skins. So the only way of finding out whether the fruit is sweet is to rely on:
(a) pedigree (Tambun!!) or
(b) try-before-you-buy from a trusted seller.
4. Looks aren’t everything. I came across two Sydney Markets stalls selling frankly ugly pomelos. They looked like yellow grapefruit, except pomelo-shaped and with dull, muddy skin.
The stallholders were adamant their fruit was sweet. “Taste, taste!” they urged.
I ended up buying two. And returned the following week for another two.
5. A trusted fruit seller. I admit that points 3 and 4 above are cop-outs, since they don’t help much. What does help is finding a seller you can believe when s/he assures you the pomelo is sweet. Okay, alright, this point 5 is also a cop-out since it isn’t advice unique to choosing pomelos.
How to peel a pomelo like an expert
In this <2 minute video, keep an eye out for the orange warning sign denoting a crucial step in the peeling process.
Which parts to use?
Part 1: Pomelo segments
After removing the thick, spongy skin, discard the white pith and membranes surrounding each segment.
Eat the segments unadorned, as you’d eat mandarins. Or break up the segments to add to:
~ a duck salad with crunchy bits and sweet dressing (see Duck Derivative Dish #1 in this post); or
~ Yu Sheng, the famous, wow-ing lucky raw fish salad eaten at Chinese New Year.
Part 2: Pomelo Rind
Recipe for Honey and Pomelo Rind Tea
Pomelo rind is the poor guy’s yuzu peel. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit prized for its aromatic peel, but very difficult to source in Australia. Houston, we have a solution.
Honey and pomelo rind tea tastes like a stronger, more citrussy lemongrass tea, and smells divine.
Simply steep 1 tsp pomelo rind in a mug of boiling water, with ½ tsp honey.
- Use a sharp peeler to get the rind off the pomelo skin.
- Aim to get only the coloured rind with no bitter white pith attached.
Part 3.1: Pomelo Skin (Braised)
Recipe for Braised Pomelo Skin, Shiitake Mushrooms and Scallops (inspired by my 6th Uncle and 6th Aunty)
This is a hearty yet low-fat recipe. There’s something comforting about drowning steamed rice in the robust sauce, while enjoying the flavour-soaked pomelo skin and the meaty whole mushrooms.
Cooked pomelo skin has the texture of a soft gourd or squash. Its delightful mild citrus flavour pairs terrifically with the strongly umami mushrooms and dried scallops. For more carnivorous readers, I think pork ribs or minced pork would make a nice addition too.
Not a fan of citrus peel? Join the club. I find the flavour of dried citrus peel too intense. Confession: I buy peel-free hot cross buns.
But I do like cooked pomelo skin because it is a different kettle of fish. Its subtle tang is more of a hint than the HELLO-I’M-HERE note of orange peel in fruit loaves.
Preparing the pomelo skin
Steps 1 to 3 are to rid the pomelo skin of bitterness.
STEP 1. Take the skin from 1 pomelo and soak it in water for at least 4h (or overnight). Notice how the skin turns translucent after soaking.STEP 2. Discard soaking water. Squeeze excess water from skin. Cut off the hard rind, then cut the pith into 2cm x 5cm pieces. STEP 3. Boil pomelo skin pieces in water for 10 minutes. Drain and cool with tap water. Squeeze out excess water. Now you have prepared pomelo skin ready for cooking.
~ 2 tsp julienned ginger
~ 1 tsp chopped garlic
~ 4 small dried scallops (conpoy), or 1 tbsp dried shrimp
~ 8 small dried shiitake mushrooms
→ soak these in warm water for 20 minutes and remove the stalks
~ 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine, or substitute with sweet sherry
~ 1 tsp black bean sauce
~ 1 tsp sugar
~ 2 tsp soy sauce (or to taste)
~ 1 tbsp cornflour mixed with 3 tbsp water to form a slurry
Over medium heat, fry ginger in some oil until golden brown. Add garlic and stir for a few seconds. ~ Add prepared pomelo skin and all ingredients except water and cornflour slurry. ~ Add enough water to cover almost everything. ~ Cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes. ~ During the final 5 minutes, stir in the cornflour slurry and bring to boil. ~ Turn off heat and serve. See how the porous pomelo skin has turned brown? It has been saturated with the flavoursome sauce. Garnish with sliced green onions if you have any (I didn't). Serve with steamed rice.
Part 3.2: Pomelo Skin (Hat)
You can use the pomelo skin as a farcical child’s hat. I didn’t make this up – it’s tradition!
Google “pomelo hat” if you don’t believe me.
As I was cutting the pomelo, my friend of 20 years, The Ridiculously Gorgeous Dr H, reminisced about her childhood photo of her sporting such a hat.
That did it. In the name of creating meaningful childhood memories for my kids, I immediately accosted them and made them pose. In their school uniforms, no less.
But first, I gave it a thorough wash.
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