Mexican papayas are not for the commitment fearing yet fruit loving person in your life. This is a fruit that requires careful thought in selection, peeling, deseeding, cutting, and then the actual preparation begins. This is not your average good into your brown bag lunch kind of fruit. Papaya requires love, it requires patience. And most of all it requires good forearm muscle.
If you taste a Mexican papaya straight from its thick green-yellow-orange skin, you’ll find a taste that is somewhere between vomit and a rotten cantaloupe. And those slimy looking black seeds that dot the hollow interior normally scooped straight into the garbage can? For the first time in my papaya-loving life, I popped one in my mouth after the vague memory of a food-magazine reference to them being a fantastic addition to salads. As the taste of potent mustard seed and gassy fermented cabbage engulfed me, arms waving around helplessly, I thanked my own laziness for not ever building a new screen for my window, and allowed the chewed-up slimy black seed to fly to the hell where bad culinary advice goes to die.
1 - 3 pound papaya
1 3/4 cups fresh squeezed lime juice (about three pounds of limes)
1 cup cane sugar
Non-reactive container (glass, ceramic or plastic)
Picking a papaya is much easier than picking a watermelon. Skin color in papayas can vary widely, from pale lime green to bright orange, passing through yellow in between. Avoid papayas with excessive black and sunken spots. Ripe papayas will have the slightest amount of give to them, and will somehow feel both heavy and hollow.
Cut the papaya in half and remove the seeds with a spoon and discard. For the love of god, unless you actually enjoy the taste of mustard gas, throw them away. Quarter the papaya, then cut each quarter in half again, or until it is at a size to comfortably run a knife along the skin without wasting the flesh. I’ve never been a fan of the peel first then cut method when it comes to the irregular shape of papaya, but whatever works for you.
Once all the papaya is peeled, cut into large dice, about ¾” in size. Place in a non-reactive container, and start warming up your forearm, the citrus press is coming out. Cut and squeeze those limes until the papaya is completely covered in juice. This is one of those moments when I wondered for America survived so long without the citrus press. Add the sugar, and mix well. Cover, place in the fridge, and find something to do for the next 2 hours as the lime and sugar work their magic and soften up the bright orange flesh, bringing out a mellow sweetness from the flesh itself, and surrounding it in a delightfully potent lime syrup.
Get a spoonful of that softened up papaya in your belly and enjoy my friend. And if that bright flavor doesn’t erase the thought of mustard gas tasting seeds out of your mind, let me add one word: tequila. I found that 3 tablespoons each of pureed marinated papaya and marinade, 2 ounces of tequila (anejo, of course), ice, and a soda water topper, will erase just about anything.
Previously published in Chow Bella, March 11, 2013.