When the weather is this hot, is there anything better than a slice of ice-cold melon? It's sweet and creamy, with flavors and aromas that range from light and floral to rich and musky, depending on the variety.
When you've got a great melon, anything you can do to it in the kitchen would be ornamentation, not improvement. That said, sometimes it's fun to play around, right? That's particularly true when the markets are as full of terrific melons as they are right now.
Choosing a melon is a little tricky and requires some background. There are two types of melons and they're divided not by color, but by the texture of their peel.
Rough-skinned melons are in the cantaloupe family. Smooth-skinned melons are in the honeydew family. Both groups have green- and orange-fleshed members (watermelons are actually members of a different family entirely; we'll deal with them another time).
This is important to know because the keys to selecting a perfect melon vary dramatically between the two groups.
How to choose: We'll start with rough-skinned melons because they are the simplest to choose. You want to look for netting that is raised above the rind; a golden background color; a clean "belly button," where the stem has slipped free; and a profoundly melon-y perfume.
Smooth-skinned melons are tougher to choose, mainly because they give off no perfume (their Latin botanical name is "inodorous"). Look for melons that have a slightly velvety, almost waxy texture to the rind; a background color that is more rich cream than ivory; a golden color to the pale spot where the melon rested on the ground; and subtle cracking around the stem end.
How to store: Both types of melons can be stored at room temperature. They will continue to ripen after being picked. Personally, I like my melons cold, so I chill them in the refrigerator the night before serving.