I know exactly where I was the moment I fell in love with durian jam.
Durian was already my favorite thing, and I really didn’t see how cooking the fruit down into a sticky, brown goo could improve the flavor. And it doesn’t improve durian – it just morphs into its own utterly delicious, sweet, funky and sticky awesomeness, like if a butterscotch brownie joined forces with a saltwater taffy.
The moment I fell in love with durian jam, I was standing under a wooden house in Kalimantan watching two women do battle with the sticky glop in the largest wok I had ever seen.
The smoke from the wood fire made my eyes sting, and although they let me push the durian flesh around the wok with the large wooden paddles, I couldn’t stay close to the fire for long without waving my hand in front of my face and coughing.
This is how durian jam is traditionally made: Hand-stirred over a wood fire.
Also known as lempok or simply durian kek in Malaysia, this extreme durian reduction evolved out of a need to preserve the excess amount of durian available during the season. A single grafted tree can produce over 100 fruits, while a tree grown from seed can produce more than 400!
That’s a lot of durian at one time, added to the fact that once off the tree, a durian has a shelf-life of 2-9 days (depending on if it’s Malaysian or Thai).
Excess durian or durian that is considered too low quality to really enjoy is tossed into a bucket or large bowl. If you visit very many durian farms or stalls, you’ll probably see bowls piled high with rejected durian pieces with a woman crouched over it elbows deep in cream, separating out the seeds.
You’ll even see this process at Bao Sheng’s Durian Farm. It’s probably the most common way to not waste durian.
Sometimes sugar is added as a preservative, or occasionally rice flour, but the very best thurian guan is the straight up durian kind.
It really doesn’t look that appealing, and it took me all the way until Kalimantan to give it a try.
But nowadays, I love it.
It’s dense and chewy, moist like a single-ingredient banana bread with a lightly smoky flavor from the cooking process. It’s great.
Some people like to eat it on toast like a jam, or mixed with rice, but most people admit to loving it straight off the spoon.
These days the wood fire and paddle has mostly been replaced by a machine that looks something like an industrial mixer. The simmering durian flesh whirs around for hours, filling the air with a heavy, warm durian odor that can be smelled for hundreds of meters.
When I was scooting around Koh Chang, nearly every restaurant had one of these machines in operation and I swear the entire half of the island smelled like slowly roasting durian.
Older folks swear it’s not the same without the secret ingredients of sweat and smoke.
Recipe For Durian Guan
This recipe comes from Joy’s Thai Kitchen, a website with many interesting durian creations. She warns that your kitchen may smell like a gas leak for several days.
- 1 pound very ripe durian
- 8 tbsp. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
1. Place all ingredients in a pan on low heat
2. Stir continuously until the mixture is so thick that it doesn’t stick to your finger.
Durian Guan will keep in the refrigerator at least one month or longer.Will you dare to attempt cooking durian in your own kitchen? Tell us about it!