The world of fruit is a world of controversy, and Serge Gainsbourg’s “Lemon Incest” is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s the controversy over the right way to peel a banana. There’s the controversy over the identity of the forbidden fruit in Genesis—the list of possibilities includes “the apple, pomegranate, the fig, the carob, the etrog or citron, the pear, the quince and … the datura.” (Then there’s the sub-controversy of what the heck the etrog and the datura are.) There’s the controversy over tomatoes, and whether they are properly categorized as a fruit even though they moonlight as a vegetable.
And, of course, there’s the controversy over grapefruit and its edibility, which my colleague Katy Waldman kindled a little over a year ago with her extremely even-handed article “Grapefruit Is Disgusting.” Waldman’s argument against grapefruit boiled down to three points: “It’s impossible to eat,” “It tastes disgusting,” and “It’s plotting to murder you.” The second and third points seem like subjective statements rather than cold, hard facts—but I would like to wade belatedly into the controversy to address Waldman’s first point, which is a common but demonstrably false misunderstanding.
Grapefruit is not impossible to eat; everyone is just eating it incorrectly. The traditional way of eating grapefruit—by cutting it across the equator and digging out tiny morsels of flesh with the half-serrated utensil known as a grapefruit spoon—is one of the most frustrating experiences known to man. Waldman is correct when she says that “separating those wedges from the membrane requires you to saw at them like a maniac with the edge of your spoon” and compares the whole ordeal to “shoveling fish.”
The solution to this problem is not to shun the grapefruit as a foodstuff. It’s to prepare grapefruit more intelligently. Your grapefruit-eating experience will be 10 times more pleasurable if you dispense with all the peel, pith, and membranes before you start eating instead of while you are eating.
This method is preferable to the grapefruit-spoon method in several ways. For one, it means you don’t have to buy a grapefruit spoon. For another, it lets you keep all that delicious grapefruit juice for consumption instead of letting it pool sadly in the bottom of your grapefruit carcass. It sets the stage for a smooth, uninterrupted dining experience instead of the stop-and-go tedium of grapefruit-half-excavation.
Finally, it gives you the freedom to make the most of grapefruit’s sweet-tart flavor by serving it as a salad. The most interesting thing people tend to do with halved grapefruit is sprinkle sugar on top, which is not only boring but also counterproductive. Grapefruit tastes great by itself (unless you’re afflicted with the same taste-bud disorder as Waldman), but when you sprinkle sugar on it, the flavor contrast makes the fruit taste unpleasantly tart. Grapefruit tastes much better if you pair it with salty ingredients, like olives, which offset and highlight the grapefruit’s subtle sweetness.
This recipe, inspired by an orange recipe that Mark Bittman collected from a vegetarian restaurant in the south of France, pairs grapefruit segments with olive purée that looks a little like guacamole and is about as rich. Usually olive tapenade contains lemon juice, but this ultra-simple purée doesn’t need any, since the grapefruit provides plenty of acidity already.
Grapefruit Salad With Green Olive Paste
Yield: 4 servings
Time: About 10 minutes
4 medium grapefruit
1 cup pitted green olives
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves or ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
1. Remove the grapefruit peel and pith with a serrated knife, then separate each grapefruit into segments with a paring knife, discarding the membranes between each segment.
2. Put the olives, olive oil and rosemary in a food processor; season with black pepper. Process until the olives are almost fully puréed. Top the grapefruit segments with the olive purée and serve immediately.
Update, Nov. 28, 2016: The video in this post has been removed pending the resolution of a licensing claim.