Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America know what’s up. They consume plantains as a staple crop (like corn or wheat) and here we are twiddling our thumbs and doing other activities unrelated to plantains from dawn til dusk. I am not amused.
Plantains are a larger, starchier and less sweet variety of banana than the one we know and are usually cooked rather than eaten raw. Unripe plantains taste similar to potatoes and, like the potato, are often boiled or mashed. Ripe plantains are sweeter and are most commonly sliced and fried, called plátanos maduros in Spanish (pictured below). Plátanos maduros are probably the most delicious form of plantain you’ll encounter, but I’ll get you up to speed on other plantain information as well.
**All About Plantains**
In Season: Plantains
When to Buy: Plantains, like bananas, are available all year since they’re grown exclusively in tropical climates. They take about two to three weeks to fully ripen, though, so definitely plan ahead for recipes that call for ripe plantains.
What to Buy: Here is where we differ from bananas. Pictured above is a very ripe plantain—soft and completely black. Do not be alarmed. It yielded the sweet and golden brown fried plantains in the next photo. The other plantain is unripe—firm and yellow with a tiny bit of brown. It has already ripened from green to yellow but is still a long ways away from actually being “ripe” and will not be sweet at all. Remember, mostly yellow: unripe. Most stores sell greenish-yellow (very unripe) and yellowish-brown (still unripe but closer). If your recipe calls for unripe or “green” plantains, get the first kind. If not, get the second kind and be very patient.
Prep & Storage: As mentioned, ripening can take awhile, as few as 10 days or as many as 20 or so. Keep them in a paper bag with an apple, which gives off ethylene gas and speeds ripening. Do not overcrowd the bag or mold will form. Plantains are especially difficult to peel, so cut off the ends, slice the peel open down its entire length, then “unwrap” it.
How to Cook: For plátanos maduros, you simply fill a frying pan with about an inch of vegetable oil and heat over medium heat. Unpeel a ripe plantain, slice it into 1/2 inch disks and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side. To get more creative, check out the recipes below.
Fried Plantains (Plátanos Maduros)
More detailed instructions than listed above. They recommend using a yellower plantain, but fully black works too, I tried it!
Also a common usage in the US. Try using any of your other favorite spices or adding cinnamon and sugar for some spicy-sweet.
Plantain Mash with Bacon
You could mash potatoes, but you should try mashed plantains instead.
Pureed plantains and sugar actually make the tortilla for this re-fried bean-filled quesadilla.
Sweet Plantain “Lasagna” (Pastelón)
A Puerto Rican creation of genius: layers of meat, plantain and cheese.
Jen Cantin graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. with a degree in English and Journalism. She shares other (a)musings at Deep Fried Epiphany and dedicates this post to making African fufu (plantain flour plus water) with her ACE cooking class although the texture is certainly an acquired taste.