For some people, cleaning fruit is no big thing. They have a way they’ve always done it, they’re happy with what they do, and they’ve manged to make it through life just fine, thank you very much! For others…cleaning fruit – especially melons and pineapple, and ESPECIALLY in front of other people, can become an exercise in risk management and self-image damage control.
When I was working my way through culinary school, I had a part-time job in the morning prepping food for a cafeteria that fed hundreds of people during the lunch hour. I worked my way through all of the different culinary stations eventually, but the one that every single cook had to start at first was the salad bar. Working the salad bar is a difficult job with very little in the way of public adoration; the total opposite of say, the saute station on Flaming Banana Foster day. There is the maniacal prepping of dressings (all freshly made in the morning), the chopping of dozens of veggies (god help you if you have not prepped enough cucumbers when the lunch rush comes, no mercy will befall you), and the scramble to think up fresh and interesting pasta and rice salads that don’t dry up or look like they’ve been through a blender. Trust me, it’s demanding. There is one other aspect to salad prep that people forget about: the fruit station. Every day, I would clean and prep dozens of melons, strawberries, grapes and pineapples in a small work station behind the salad bar as customers were diving into their salads. And let me tell you – there is a system. The same principles I used to make it through cleaning all those fruits without creating a landslide of scraps and juice at work are the same ones I use at home.
The process is simple, and so are the rules:
- Get everything ready before you cut anything open. This means get your knife (sharpened, please! A dull knife on a circular melon is a bad decision), your cutting board – the bigger the better, your scrap bowl, your hand-wipe towel, and your containers to hold the fruit once it is ready to store. None of these things are optional.
- Get your melon (these guidelines work on any type, but obviously watermelons are easier because there is nothing to scrape out).
- Cut both ends off of the melon and discard the scraps into your bowl.
- Stand the melon up on one of the cut ends, and begin to cut down the side from top to bottom. You will be making long strips of rind. Try your hardest to find the balance between leaving too much of the rind on the melon and cutting away too much of the good stuff.
- You now have a naked melon! If you are prepping a watermelon, cut it in half width-wise (through the center) and put aside one of the halves aside for a moment. Lay your half on the cutting board with the biggest cut side down and begin to make straight slices down about 1 inch apart.
- You should end up with about 7 1 inch planks. Take half of those planks and lay them down flat, stacked on top of each other. Make the same kind of cuts, straight down, 1 inch apart. Turn the pile halfway around, and make the final cuts, each 1 inch apart. You will now have a perfect pile of watermelon squares, ready for action!
- If you are cleaning a honeydew or cantaloupe, make the first cut in half, lengthwise (from end to end). Scoop out the seeds, and then with the first half of melon make even 1 inch slices. You should end up with about 7 smiley melon shapes! Turn all the pieces halfway around, and slice them evenly into squares, 1 inch apart. Easy!
- This is an important one: while you are halfway through cleaning your melons, stop and take a moment to clean up. Toss the rinds that you have collected in your bowl, take your rag and wipe off your knife and hands, and clean up any juices running off of the board onto your counter. Keeping your workspace clean is a big deal when you are working with messy foods, it will make the final cleanup tons easier and save you from slipping on a fallen rind and having an unfortunate emergency room trip.
Now get those perfect melon pieces out there for people to dig in! In the case of my kids, they don’t usually wait for me to get them a bowl before little hands start invading.