The difficulty of opening a durian is legendary and the basis for many jokes. See the extended efforts of the Portlandia crew if you don’t believe me. Durians just look impregnable, and many people are so intimidated they don’t even try to bring home that first durian. Even among the Asians, being a good durian opener is akin to being able to crush a can in your fist – a casual feat of masculinity.
The truth is that it’s really not that hard to open a durian. I can do it without a knife, and I’m a 105 pound girl (see how here). Durians want to be eaten by large mammals – it’s how they spread their seeds and ensure reproduction. Given that, durians are built with certain weaknesses, which when exploited can reduce the feat of durian opening to dixie-cup level. Not exactly manly! Of course, part of the fun of eating durian is the struggle, so if you need to fight your durian to enjoy it, go ahead and ignore the following suggestions.
Before you start, you need to assess your durian. Is it fresh or frozen? Is it ripe?
it’s not ripe, there’s no point in wrestling with it. The reward will
be disappointing and inedible. Put the durian in a paper bag with some
bananas and wait a few days, until the durian becomes yellowed and the
seams are visible.
your durian is frozen, it is imperative that you allow it to thaw
completely before getting a knife anywhere close to it. This means at least 8 hours in a warm place. I realize that
sometimes it’s really really hard to wait, especially once it starts
off-gassing, but trust me on this one. People could get hurt. Also
remember not to thaw your durian in the refrigerator, unless you want
soda that tastes like hard boiled eggs rubbed in armpit.
Know the structure
Durians shipped outside of SE Asia are selected for perfect appearance. Although durians come in all shapes and sizes, durians for export weigh between 2-3 kilos (4-7 pounds) and have a uniform shape, like a fat football. The shell hides five interior lobes which create undulating swellings on the exterior shell, which indicates where the edible fruit is located. Each section has a weakened seam running down the middle of the lobe, from stem to base, which meet at the bottom in a five pointed star. This seam is the key to opening a durian.
A symmetrical durian is typically easier to open, although it really depends on the thickness and toughness of the shell. The hardest durians to open are those that are strangely lopsided or crescent shaped. They may have only four lobes of fruit, or even one large lobe. These are referred to as “alien fruits,” and can leave one wondering where to start.
The techniques I’ve selected to share are just two of many, many variations. In Vietnam, it is typical to cut off the fleshless base or “nose” of the durian, which exposes visible markers for where to cut the seams. In Thailand, they do all kinds of crazy things, like this beautiful carving below. Try a few different methods before settling on your signature durian technique.
The Basic Twist
This is the easiest and fastest method of opening a durian. When the durian is cooperative, you barely even need a knife!
|Five pointed star visible
1. Cut off the stem to make the durian easier to handle
2. Flip the durian stem-side down. You can use a hand towel or cloth to hold it in place.
3. Place the knife directly at the center of the bottom, as shown above. Push down until the knife enters to the handle.
4. Twist the knife back and forth. The seams will (probably) rupture, as shown at right.
5. Put the knife down, and grasp two sides of the durian with your fingers inside the opening. Pull the durian in half using brute force. This part can take some serious effort. If it’s too difficult, cut along the seams to the stem and then use your hands again. Men, this is your chance to show off your beastly strength and force of will!
6. If all has gone well, you have neatly parted your durian into two halves, displaying two full sections of luscious, gleaming durian custard. Oooh. It should now look like this:
7. Eat everything visible. Yum! Now, you need to open the remaining sections. Place both hands, fingers facing outward and palms inside the smooth white pods, on either side of the durian on the end farthest from the stem. Lock your elbows, and push down using your body weight to split the pod open.
8. Eat! It’s a lot of word for not a lot of action, so I’ve included a much more concise and cool cartoon version of these directions. Show off your durian love to your friends by posting it on the refrigerator. Scroll to the bottom to view.
Fact: Not all durians can be pulled in half. Some are just too tough or
have a core made of cement (literally). If, when you assess your durian, you find
that it has a seriously thick shell, is under ripe, or you just want to
be fancy, use this method shown to us by the durian experts at Sunshine
Durian Factory in Thailand. It’s not a commonly used method, and as the
result is extremely tidy, you get bonus kudos from your sophisticated
peers. The low brows who just like to eat durian will probably think it’s stupid.
1. Identify either side of the swelling indicating where a segment full of flesh is.
2. Starting at the stem end, make two deep cuts to the core on either side of the segment. Make a third one down the middle where the seam should be.
3. Remove the wedge from the whole fruit, and open it along the middle cut.
4. Make a slit down the seam of the next segment, and cut the entire segment off the fruit. Repeat for all segments.
What about the Alien Fruits??? As shown in the Portlandia Durian Episode, alien durians can be really really really difficult to open. However, it’s not completely impossible. You can prevent your house from being turned into a space ship, I promise. All you need is a chainsaw.
No, I’m kidding. Alien durians also have seams, and in theory should be just as easy to open as any other durian. The difficulty comes in their lopsided, uneven, twisted and unpredictable interiors. Their unsymmetrical shape can make it more difficult to use your body weight during the ripping-in-half part of the process. The cores of alien durians can be larger, or the entire fruit can be almost entirely composed of thick, concrete-like rind with only a small lump of golden cream buried inside (still totally worth the effort!)
I suggest first attempting the Basic Twist. Find the base where the seams meet (which may not be on the bottom)and stick the knife in to see if it has any give. Mostly likely, the seams will rupture and you can proceed like it’s a normal durian. Yay!
If nothing happens except your knife if now warped, get a stronger knife and make long cuts along the visible seams from the base toward the stem on all sides. At this point, you must relinquish a goals of cleanliness or unpunctured fingers. Alien fruits can be just as amazing as their earthling peers, so there’s no reason not to give them a try.
How do you open your durian?