Plantain primer

Everyone loves plantains, but cooking them at home can be a chore.

click to enlarge IT’S BANANAS: Ripe plantains are right for frying. - Charles Haynes/WikiMedia
Charles Haynes/WikiMedia
IT’S BANANAS: Ripe plantains are right for frying.

Yes, it’s true that plantains may be the most misunderstood fruit in the plane, not to mention one of the most unattractive — bigger than bananas, with faceted, angular sides, But many devotees find them also bigger in flavor. The chameleon-like fruit can be fried, baked, mashed, used in casseroles, wrapped around scallops, shredded as a coating for fresh fish, or grilled and stuffed with creamy mozzarella cheese.

The “plantano macho” (translation, “the macho banana”) cannot be eaten raw. Cooking is an absolute necessity.

In the blemish-free green stage, plantains are mild, and function much like an Irish potato — the perfect stage to make plantain chips and coatings for fresh fish.

Medium-ripe plantains (yellow with black spots) become slightly sweet and more succulent with a soft texture perfect for boiling, sautéing, mashing and baking. When purchased black, or allowed to fully ripen, the plain is wonderfully sweet and perfect for maduros fritos (fried plantains). When choosing these fruits, be careful to select firm ones, avoiding anything moldy, squishy, oozing or shriveled.

Peeling the plantain is perhaps the most difficult part. Start with a sharp paring knife. First slice 3/4 inch from each end and discard those pieces. Making four evenly spaced slits lengthwise, cut through the peel from top to bottom, avoiding the fruit. Beginning at the corner of each slit and using a sharp paring knife, pull the skin away lengthwise, one strip at a time. Peeling under cold running water helps ease the process. To store after peeling, place the whole plantain in salted cold water to prevent it from becoming discolored. Armed with your knowledge of the plantain, take a stab at one of these plantain-centric recipes this holiday season.

Maduros Fritos
aka Fried Sweet Plantains; Makes four servings.

Ingredients:
4 ripe plantains, peeled and cut diagonally into 3/4 inch pieces
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or regular olive oil
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Lime juice
Salt, to taste

Directions:
Heat a large skillet. Add the olive oil and butter and cook until the oil begins to smell fragrant. Add plantain slices and fry for about three-four minutes on each side, carefully turning with a spatula or pancake turner to prevent slices form clinging to the plan. Add more oil if necessary. Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon. Drain paper on paper towels or brown paper bags. Place on a serving platter and sprinkle with lime juice and salt. Serve hot or warm.

Tostones
aka Twice-Fried Plantains; Makes 4-6 servings.

Ingredients:
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or regular olive oil for frying
2 large green plantains, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch diagonal slices
Salt to taste

Directions:
Heat the oil until sizzling and fragrant, the temperature should be medium-hot, about 325 degrees. Carefully add the plantains for about two to three minutes on each side or until they begin to turn golden. Remove plantains with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels for a few minutes. When cooled, place a piece plastic wrap or paper toweling on top. Using the palm of your hand, a meat pounder, or the back your hand, then push down and flatten the slices to look like pancakes, about 1/4-inch thick. Return the smashed plantains to heated oil (you may need to add more) or store at room temperature until it is time to serve. Fry again in the oil until golden brown, three-four minutes, depending on thickness. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow to drain, again. Sprinkle with salt. Serve warm.

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