Food

Latin American Chefs Take Mamey From Sweet to Savory Dishes

Thin slices of mamey topped the toast, sprinkled with hazelnuts and over a layer of goat cheese, served at San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Vianda. The bread, a house-made sourdough, had been pan-fried, bringing together the earthiness of cheese and the sweet, creamy nuttiness of the orange fruit, amplified by the crunch of the toasted edges. The mamey here acted almost like avocado would in a similar dish, but its more structurally sound composition and custardy feel made it more of a star than a spread. The bright color and mix of textures adjusted any expectations one might have of a toast appetizer, especially one with a fruit as its loudest component.

Mamey is a tropical fruit that grows on trees in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America, available there in winter and early spring, and in the U.S. in late spring. It has a rough brown exterior that opens up into a bright orangey-red fruit, with a big, black pit. While not often found in its whole form in the U.S., Latin markets and wholesalers often have it bagged in chunks in the freezer section. Latin chefs in this region are finding ways to add it to their menus through sweet and savory dishes that service both its seasonality and significance to the cuisines of the region.

For Vianda’s Francis Gúzman, the savory toast was a new way to show off the fruit, which has a short, two-month growing season on the island. He says mamey is the perfect dessert fruit, and usually seen in jams, milkshakes, yogurts, and smoothies. Using it on his toast allowed the fruit to shine and put its brilliant color at the forefront. “When ripe, I can describe [mamey] as a custardy sweet potato with maple syrup,” he says, which is how it strikes a balance on this toast, perking up the palate with something sweet but recognizably hearty.

 

Similarly, at Hueso in Guadalajara, Mexico, a dessert plate of fruits and meringue comes ringed with a piped mamey puree, its bold yet earthy color studded with edible flowers. There, the tropical flavor provides a smooth complement to crunchy meringue, adding a hearty and nutty base to acidic fruits. “In Mexico, the mamey season starts in March and ends in May,” says co-owner Juan Monteon. “In that time, you can find it in markets, tianguis, supermarkets.” And that’s also when it graces Hueso’s ever-changing menu.

In the region more generally, mamey sees similar treatment as in Puerto Rico, in ice creams and jellies. But Monteon sees the power in treating mamey as one would a vegetable, bringing out its various tones with roasting, caramelization, poaching, or serving it raw. “Each technique helps to enhance different flavors,” he says, and the fruit’s meaty flesh can stand up to just about anything as well as be eaten raw, making it something to reach for when replacing either avocado or sweet potato.

The entirety of the mamey fruit is used to great effect at chef Elena ReygadasRosetta, in Mexico City. While the menu skews Mediterranean, one dessert features thin, laminated strips of mamey flesh—pink and translucent enough to be confused on first glance with salmon sushi—laid over migas of taxcalate, a corn beverage, foam of pixtle, the seed, and mamey sorbet. In her cookbook, Rosetta, Reygadas explains the pixtle is used for its bitter almond flavor that complements the more sweet, nutty flavor of the flesh. The entirety of it calls forth drinks made with the fruit in the pre-Hispanic era, which Reygadas notes are traditions still alive and well in Mexico, “where the past is always present,” today.

Despite its short season and tropical nature, mamey has become more popular, whether fresh or frozen. “If you see the mamey and it is still green, buy it,” advises Guzman, when asked how anyone new to this fruit should work with it. “Leave it outside of the refrigerator until it has ripened. The softer the better—think about a banana; you don’t want to eat a raw one. Eat it with some toasted nuts, fresh cheese, and honey. It’s the perfect dessert.” And the perfect introduction to a versatile fruit more chefs should know.

Alicia Kennedy is a writer and former foodservice worker based in San Juan, Puerto Rico.