Plantains - How To Cook Plantain Bananas
Delicate enough to use in a low-key but appetizing salad or bold enough to accompany a hearty entrée, the plantain is one of the most diverse fruits in Latin American cuisine, or any cuisine for that matter. Thanks to the dramatic changes they undergo during their ripening process, they can be incorporated into almost any recipe for any occasion.
- Green, unripe plantains are most often peeled and deep-fried for snacks or garnishes, or even as a binder in breadings.
- Yellow plantains are just beginning to ripen and can be used in main courses or dishes where their firm and starchy texture and subtle flavors at this stage of development can be fully appreciated.
- Plantains whose skin has turned black are at the peak of their ripening and the starches inside will have mostly turned to sugars by this point, making them ideal for use in desserts or any dish that could benefit from a touch of sweetness.
Like their close cousin the banana, plantains first came into popularity in many Latin American countries because of the ease with which they are grown in mass quantities. The amount of plantains or bananas that can be harvested per square mile of land is among the highest yield of any crop in modern agriculture. Coupled with the fact that soils in the region are particularly suited to their growth, it's no wonder that plantains have become such an integral part of Latin American culture and cuisine!
Plantain or banana?
Because plantains provide an inexpensive yet filling and nutritious dietary staple for the many people that live in Latin American countries, this resilient crop tends to be grown all year round. As a result, you'll likely be able to find them very easily in any grocery store or market that you might frequent. Be certain to distinguish them from bananas, however. If in doubt and the products aren't clearly labeled, size and color can be good indicators.
Plantains are typically a bit larger than the average banana and are often sold in the unripe stage. This is part of what makes them so versatile. If you're wanting a starchier plantain, you're good to go right from the market, but if you want a riper, sweeter product, just place the green plantains inside a closed paper bag to rapidly accelerate the ripening process.
No matter how you decide to use them, below you'll find several recipes to give you ideas for how to put this wonderful fruit to work in your next meal.
Appetizer: Fried Plantains
One of the oldest ways in which plantains are enjoyed, this recipe is a long-standing classic that's been perfected over the years, and has a wide variety of interpretations. The recipe below is one take on a common theme, but feel free to try out your own variations with breading and seasonings to find the plantain that's perfect for you.
- 2 large plantains (ripe or past-ripe)
- 2 eggs
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup milk
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Salt and chopped hot pepper for seasoning
Whisk eggs thoroughly and then add along with a pinch of hot pepper, butter, and milk to a mixture of salted flour and blend until smooth.
Dip plantains to coat and then cook in a deep frier set at 375 degrees until coating is golden-brown. Serve immediately.
Salad: Caribbean Black Bean Salad with Sauteed Plantains
A delicately flavored salad with touches of citrus that will leave you sated but refreshed, this recipe is a traditional favorite that could also be used as a side dish to a heavy entrée like breaded pork cutlets or even spooned over steamed rice and served as a main course itself.
- 2 large plantains (the riper the better, black skin is a good sign)
- 4 cloves of minced garlic
- 30 oz. Black beans, drained
- 2/3 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons cilantro
- Lime juice and salt to taste
Skin plantain and chop into medium-sized chunks. Heat over medium heat with olive oil, turning once, until browned. Salt to taste and then set aside.
In the same oil, sauté the garlic briefly before adding beans, orange and lime juice. Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until the beans seem to be done. Add the cilantro and then season with salt to taste.
The plantains should be presented atop the prepared beans for the best appearance. Serve this dish warm.
Main Course: Sea Bass with Plantain Crust
One of the more unorthodox uses for the sturdy starches found in an unripe plantain is to replace the customary bread crumbs in a crust or breading, granting even old recipes a new lease on life with an infusion of exotic flavor. In this recipe, the somewhat sweet plantains in the crust draw out and amplify the natural flavors of the sea bass. Served with traditional Latin American beans and rice, it's sure to be a hit.
- 2 sea bass fillets
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 egg
- 2 unripe plantains (look for green skin)
- 1 ripe plantain (look for blackened skin)
- 1 cup oil (canola or olive work best)
- 1 cup white rice
- 1 cup black beans
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
First prepare the crust by skinning and finely chopping the 2 unripe plantains. Cook in an oiled saucepan until lightly browned and crispy. Salt to taste and then blend to a somewhat thick batter-like consistency in a food processor.
Dust each side of the sea bass in flour before dipping once in egg and then once again in the plantain crust mixture. You can repeat the dipping once more for a heavier breading if you prefer.
Sauté the sea bass filets over low heat until the crust begins to brown and then transfer to the oven and cook at 450 degrees until cooked through.
Lastly, slice the ripe plantain diagonally to make long, thin chips. Sauté until caramelizing begins in a light oil and then set aside.
Prepare the white rice and black beans as usual, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. When finished, use it as a bed to present the crusted sea bass filets, topping each with a slice of the fried plantain. Serve immediately with a variety of sauces to one side as accompaniment; salsa and a light homemade herb mayonnaise both work well for this dish.
Dessert: Cinnamon Raisin Ice Cream with Fried Plantains
An exotic take on a domestic favorite, this recipe will bring your Latin American menu full-circle and truly exploit all the potential of the humble plantain. Here, it's sweet enough to integrate seamlessly into a rich dessert, but also subtle enough to allow the primary vanilla and cinnamon flavors of the ice cream to rise to the fore.
- 2 plantains (ripe, black skin is best)
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 1 ½ cups milk
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 whole vanilla bean
- 10 eggs, yolks only
Prepare the night before by placing two large stainless steel bowls in the freezer.
Split the vanilla bean open lengthwise and using the blade of a knife, scrape out the interior. Add to a large pot along with the cream, milk, sugar, cinnamon and raisings and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Just before the mixture begins to boil, remove from heat and set aside.
Beat two egg yolks until smooth in a large bowl. A little at a time to prevent cooking, add the hot mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly to fully incorporate everything. Continue until the mixture is thick and creamy.
Spoon the mixture into the frozen steel bowls, stirring all the while to ensure an even distribution of ingredients. Place back in the freezer and stir every 30 minutes for 3 hours, whereupon you'll want to cover the bowls and leave them in the freezer until fully frozen.
When the ice cream is ready to serve, cut the plantain into thin slices and fry lightly in oil. Dust with cinnamon-sugar to taste and then add to a bowl of the ice cream as a garnish.
The use of plantains can add a touch of authenticity and nostalgia to any Latin American recipe, and the number of creative ways in which you can put them to use cannot be overstated.
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