Strange to look at but sublime to eat, Buddha’s Hand is a citrus fruit with more versatility than its unique appearance suggests, says Justyn McGrigor.
It’s the Kraken! Or at least that’s what immediately came to my mind when I looked at the Buddha’s Hand. This fruit is surely one of nature's more unusual-looking creations courtesy of the ‘fingers’ that protrude and splay in all directions, providing inspiration for its name and giving it the underwater-creature vibe that is sure to raise a smile on the face of the busy chef.
The Buddha's Hand is thought to be the oldest cultivated citrus, with history placing its origins in India from where it was brought to China by Buddhist monks sometime after the fourth century BE, hence the religious slant to the name.
The Chinese have long viewed this clawed hand fruit as a symbol of happiness, wealth and longevity, placing it as a centrepiece on tables or on altars. The 'closed-hand' versions of the fruit are the most prized for offerings as they most closely resemble the Buddhist hand gesture for prayer. The fruit is also hung up around the home as a natural air freshener thanks to its luscious citrus aroma.
In Japan, Buddha's Hand takes the name bushukan and is often given as a New Year gift to bring good fortune for the household in the year ahead. It is also used there to make tea among other things.
Superstition aside, China is the world's leading producer of Buddha's Hand, with six different varietals grown in the country, while in Australia we just enjoy one – sarcodactylis. This is grown commercially in Northern NSW where the Citris Medica tree thrives and available from May to July.
Sizes can vary from around 15-to-30cm, the price reflecting the size. Expect to pay around $6 for the smaller/mid range fruits but more for the larger, more mature specimens with a fuller, more intense flavour.
The fruit has a brightly coloured, rough skin, akin to a lemon with a similar strong and citrusy smell. Just to make sure there is no doubt of its uniqueness, the fruit starts deep purple with the fingers clenched like a fist. The colour changes to green as it matures and to a very bright, sunny yellow when it’s ripe.
Given it's minimal flesh or juice, what’s to be done with this Kraken-like fruit? Shaved or finely sliced, the rind of the Buddha's Hand can be used to top an array of dishes such as steamed fish, used as a base for marmalade, or even candied to produce ‘Candied Hand’.
The fragrant oil can be extracted from the skin and infused into dishes and drinks, the latter covering everything from tea to Limoncello, Vodka and even beer. You can even try a 'finger' of this fruit in the top of your next Corona rather than a lime wedge – it delivers the same flavour to the drink but makes for a great conversation starter!
If inspiration fails, the Buddha's Hand makes an eye-catching table decoration until creativity sparks and this unusual but strongly flavoured citrus fruit finds a place on your menu.
Justyn McGrigor operates top supplier Murdoch Produce. Contact him on: ?02 8543 9999 or murdochproduce.com.au