The mango is one of the fruits that are trickiest to peel and cut, leading to a lot of different ideas about how best to do it. A few things make it hard. First, there's the skin, which is too thick to blanch off, like with a tomato or a peach, and too clingy to just pull off, like for an orange or a banana. Then there's the pit, which refuses to be torn from the surrounding flesh, and, speaking of that flesh—it's slippery as a bar of soap.
For years, I followed the common advice of cutting off the lobes of flesh on either side of the pit, then scoring the flesh of each lobe with a knife, and finally cutting or prying it from the peel, but it never worked as well as I wanted. First, it's easy to accidentally cut yourself when scoring the flesh if you're holding the mango in your free hand—any sharp knife can pass right through the skin and into your palm. And second, the pieces never come out looking neat and clean.
There's a better way, and the key to it is to have a good peeler. In my experience, there's one kind of peeler that's better than all the rest: a carbon steel–blade Y-peeler.
I've waxed poetic about them before, but some folks have a hard time being convinced. I get that; when you're used to one thing, it can be awkward to switch over to something unfamiliar. Ultimately, if you've spent a lot of time using different peelers and have concluded that something other than the Y-peeler is best, I can't argue with that. But, having myself used god knows how many different peelers in my professional and private cooking life, I'm fairly confident that, given enough time to adjust, most people will come around to the Y-peeler. It's not an accident, after all, that almost all professionals use them.
So, why is a carbon steel Y-peeler so good for mangoes? First, the blade. It's sharp. Very sharp. Like, please-be-careful sharp. You need a sharp blade with a mango because the flesh, when ripe, is tender and can tear easily if snagged on a dull blade. A sharp one slices cleanly through the skin and the silky mango meat. (Note: Carbon steel blades will rust if left wet, and will eventually dull, which is why I always buy a handful at a time for easy replacement. The Kuhn Rikon ones I like are relatively cheap, so swapping out an old one for a fresh one is no big deal.)
Second, the Y-peeler shape allows you to use a different hand position, making it easier to brace the mango with both hands while peeling, which is helpful with these slippery little guys.
Follow the easy steps below to learn how to do it.
Step 1: Peel Mango
Hold the blade of your nice, new, sharp Y-peeler against the mango skin. I like to slide the blade back and forth at first, so that it does a slicing motion just like a knife. This helps it bite and makes sure you get under the skin. Once you've cut through, just gently pull; the skin should peel right off.
Continue peeling until the whole mango is done (except for the stem).
Alton Brown has suggested a slightly different approach (it's a funny video that's worth watching), in which you peel most of the mango but leave little grips of skin on either side. His reason is that it makes cutting the mango flesh off the pit easier and safer. In theory, that's a good idea, but in practice, I find that it solves one problem by creating another. And the problem it creates is exactly the one it sets out to solve. See, eventually, you have to cut those last patches of skin off, and no matter when you do it, you're going to be dealing with slippery, slide-y mango. His video makes it look easy, but his video is using an underripe mango. Use a ripe one, and I guarantee you, you'll be coated in slick mango juices from the start, partially skinned mango or not. I don't find that any safer or easier than taking all the skin off at once and then moving on to the next step. With the right technique, you won't cut yourself, I promise.
Step 2: Cut Mango From Pit
Great, so now we have a peeled mango. Set it on a cutting board and, with a sharp knife, trim off the stem end. "Sharp" is an incredibly important detail here: Dull knives require pressure to cut, and pressing on slippery things with a knife is a really bad idea. Don't have sharp knives in your kitchen? Well, now's a great time to sharpen them or send them off for sharpening. Think of this as a helpful (not even remotely obnoxious) motivation to do something you should be doing anyway.
Next, set the mango on one of its narrow sides. It will be slippery, so the technique matters here: The most important thing is to brace the mango with your free hand using the "claw" method, in which you hold the food while curling your fingertips under your hand (and away from the blade). It's also important to keep that bracing hand high on the mango—your fingers should be above where the blade meets the flesh, so that if you do slip, the knife won't slip down onto your hand.
Holding the mango properly, align your sharp knife slightly off-center, then carefully slice down through the flesh, separating one of the lobes from the pit. Positioning the knife off-center is critical, because if you hit the pit, you may be tempted to try to force the blade, and I think we've already established the dangers of that. If you've positioned it correctly, you'll glide right by the pit with no resistance.
Now spin the mango 180°, and repeat with the remaining lobe of flesh.
There will still be a good amount of flesh attached to the pit, which you can slice off in pieces, or just gnaw at it, as permitted by the inalienable right known as Chef's Privilege.
When you're done, you should have two lobes, plus the trimmings (assuming you didn't gobble them up):
At this point, you can slice or dice the mango meat as desired.
Addendum: Ignore That Stupid Glass Trick (Usually)
A lot of folks advocate using a glass to peel a mango, which makes for great Facebook videos but not particularly good mango pieces. The idea is to cut the two main lobes off the mango with the skin still on, then use a glass to separate the skin from the flesh. It works, but you end up with some very sloppy results, given how blunt the edge of a glass is. In the photos below, you see the technique at left and a comparison at right: The mango on the top was peeled with a glass, while the mango on the bottom was peeled with a Y-peeler.
Given how terrible the mango looks, I can't support this method, except in limited circumstances in which you really don't care about appearances...say, when you're making a mango smoothie, for instance.
Otherwise, grab a peeler and get to it.
Editor's Note: This post has been updated to remove a joke made in poor taste.