Leaves should be bright green and sprightly, not pallid, brown or limp, and the fruit should feel heavy for its size, yield slightly to pressure but be devoid of soft or brown spots. Look for a faintly fruity aroma that exudes from the stem, but beware a sweetish, fermented odor.
Available year-round, the pineapple's peak season is March through July.
Keep unripe pineapples at room temperature. Although pineapples do not ripen once removed from the stem, the acidity diminishes with time, creating an illusion of increased sweetness.
Ripe pineapples should be refrigerated for as short a time as possible, preferably less than three days. Beyond that, they tend to turn mushy.
The most common way is to start by slicing the leafy plume and the stem ends from the fruit. To remove the tough exterior, steady the pineapple upright on a cutting board, then slice downward just below the surface of the rind, following the curve of the fruit. Rotate and repeat. Remove the eyes with a short knife by making v-shaped cuts around each.
To slice or chop, place the fruit on its side. To slice, cut it crosswise into 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick slices, then cut each slice in half. To chop, cut the fruit lengthwise into six or eight wedges, then cut each wedge crosswise into pieces.
Trim and discard the woody core from each piece.
Reserve the pineapple juices by carving the fruit on a rimmed cutting board. Not only do the juices make a sweet-tart addition to a cocktail, but the liquid, when mixed with apples, pears or avocados, can keep them from turning brown.
The juice also contains an enzyme that breaks down protein, making it a good tenderizer. The enzymes also facilitate digestion. (The juice may also cause the skin on the fingers and around the lips to tingle; this is harmless.)
Individual pineapples vary in sweetness. The further the slice is from the plume (and the closer to the stem), the sweeter the fruit tends to be. Reserve less-ripe portions as a garnish, or pair with papaya or mango chunks, either tossed with a syrup of lemon juice, sugar and mint or basil or topped with plain yogurt, then drizzled with honey. Fruit that is slightly overripe or mushy may be used in smoothies or marinades.
Diced pineapple finds its way into fruit salsas used with fish or poultry or pork. Some chefs prefer a sprinkle of salt to draw out the acidity.
Served warm, the pineapple is sublime. Traditionalists should look beyond the classic pineapple upside-down cake and substitute thin slices in a tarte tatin.
Caramelize pineapple under the broiler by sprinkling slices with sugar, a sugar syrup or even honey and heating until brown and bubbly, 5 to 8 minutes. Or simmer it in butter, brown sugar, a pinch of spice and a splash of liqueur and use to top ice cream or rice pudding.
To grill, heat wedges on a lightly oiled rack until barely charred, about 2 minutes per side.