The first step to great food is great knife skills. Check out more Knife Skills this way!
If I wasn't allergic to cantaloupes, I'd live on them. Sweet, juicy and musky, with an almost squash-like aroma (makes sense—they are closely related to pumpkins and squashes), they make the perfect appetizer or dessert for a simple summer meal. As it is, I can only pass on my endorsement and grab sneaky tastes here and there with my epinephrine shot in my back pocket just in case.
Please enjoy this summer's melons for me!
Shopping and Storage
Cantaloupes and other melons are amongst the group of fruits that do not continue to ripen once they are removed from the vine, so when buying a melon, make sure that it's good—it ain't getting any better at home!
Here's what to look for:
- Musky smell: Smell the melon at the end that was attached to the vine (it should have a small indentation, as opposed to the blossom end, which will have a small withered flower). It should smell distinctly sweet and musky.
- Noticeable pale patch: There should be a noticeable flat, pale patch somewhere on the melon where it was resting on the ground. This indicates that it was left sitting on the vine long enough to develop significantly.
- Pale orange skin: The skin behind the netting should be pale orange, or at the very least a very light green. Avoid dark green melons/
- Plenty of give: Press the melon on the blossom end. It should give slightly, like a ripe pear.
Melons have the best, most fully developed flavor when served at room temperature, but once you've peeled and cut it, keep it in an airtight container in the fridge to avoid spoilage or excess moisture loss. It'll stay good for at least a day.
Surprisingly, cantaloupes and other net-skinned melons are one of the leading sources of salmonella poisoning. The bacteria get into the bumpy skin, then form something called a polymer biofilm,* making them almost impossible to get back out with regular washing—even bleach doesn't kill them. In fact, the only way to destroy the bacteria is to heat treat the cantaloupe, which also has the unwelcome side-effect of destroying the cantaloupe. So, what should you do?
- Completely remove the rind before serving the melon
- Use a very sharp knife to avoid tearing and pressing the skin as much as possible.
- Treat your melons like raw chicken—use a separate board, or at least make sure to scrub with hot soapy water after cutting melons
- Relax—chances of contracting an illness are still smaller than being run over by a blind unicyclist**
* Kinda like the goop that aliens trap you with before the facehuggers come.
** Completely made up statistic, but small chance nonetheless
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.