PATI'S MEXICAN TABLE

July 2, 2009 10:45 AM
Three tasty ways to eat ripe plantains
Ay, ay, ay! Patita, espérate mamacita! My nanny repeated, as she snatched the hot plantain tightly wrapped in aluminum foil, from my hands. Her hands were more resistant, she insisted, as they were older and had cooked so much. She would hold my chosen package with an open hand, so the camotero (sweet potato street cart man, who also sold plantains) could tear up the foil. As the steam flew up to the skies, he poured a more-than-any-child-could-wish-for amount of sweetened condensed milk... and so it fell, sweet ounce, by thick ounce, onto that moist, rich, filling and immensely satisfying treat. Sheer joy, that was.

I devoured it in what seemed a couple bites, just to lick the last but yummiest remains from the crumbled foil. There we were, standing on the street corner where my family lived, mischievously laughing: it was already getting dark, almost dinnertime, and no, no, no, I wasn't supposed to be having any. Oh dear, how I miss that woman! Now every time I eat a plantain, I get a sparkle of that sheer joy.

So I understand my boys when they rush out to the street, their heartbeats pumping so loud I can clap their rhythms, as I scream out wait, wait, wait!, as that annoying ice cream truck song approaches. Yes, right before dinner, thank you Mr. Ice Cream Man. I once felt that too, with an even more shrilling whistle coming out from the camotero street cart.

We used to eat cooked ripe plantains throughout the year, and ironically, they seemed to taste even better during the hot and rainy summer months.  As some people say, sometimes hot, beats the heat...
 
PlantainIngred.jpg
(Plantains on my dining room table, the one covered in black spots is ripe and ready to be cooked)

Plantains, called macho bananas, plátano macho, in many areas of Mexico, can just change gears and move from one course to another. Eaten as described above, they make an original dessert or an anytime sweet treat. Covered in foil and thrown on the grill, and along some grilled meat or chicken with a spicy kick, they make an incredible side. All you need is a simple salad and you have a wholesome tasty meal. If you forgot to eat them and you are already moving to dessert, just drizzle some sweet condensed milk, honey, sugar, Rompope, or ice cream on top! I don't think one can say this about many other ingredients... maybe sweet potatoes or grilled pineapples...

Another option to eat ripe plantains, which is extremely popular, is to fry them, plátanos fritos. They are peeled, thickly and diagonally sliced (to make them pretty, why not?) and as they brown in the hot oil, their sugar caramelizes. So when you start to bite in, you get a sweet crunch, and when you are deep into the bite, you get a gently mushy and soft finish.

In Mexican cooking, fried plantains are famously eaten on top of white rice, as in the main post photo. This brings a nice contrast of sweet and soft with savory and coarse. If you want to go over the top, drizzle some Mexican or Latin style cream or sour cream as a finishing touch. Try that... and you will have a piece of sheer bliss too.

NOTE Click here to read about plantains, how to buy them and how to recognize when they are ripe. Of course, there are other ways to eat them when they are not ripe, as they do in the Gulf Coast, but that is a topic for a future post... meanwhile enjoy one of these three ways to eat them ripe, or  try them all!

FRIED PLANTAINS TO SERVE OVER RICE OR AS A SIDE
Serves 2 to 4

INGREDIENTS

2 ripe plantains
¼ cup safflower or corn oil

TO PREPARE
The skin of the plantain should be almost entirely black when it is mature and ready to use. Peel the plantain and slice diagonally into about ¼ inch slices.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a sauté pan until hot but not smoking. Add slices of plantain and sauté for about 2 minutes, until lightly browned, but not blackened. Flip to other side and sauté for another minute or two.
 
Place the fried plantain sliced on a plate covered with paper towel, so as to absorb the excess oil. Serve hot over rice and eat as a side.

Already cooked plantains may be reheated on a baking sheet in the oven at 300 degrees for 5 minutes or so.


BAKED PLANTAINS FOR DESSERT
Serves 2 to 4

INGREDIENTS
2 ripe plantains
Sweetened Condensed Milk, to your liking, or honey, sugar, ice cream or Rompope

TO PREPARE
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Individually wrap the plantains, with their skin on, in aluminum foil and place in a baking sheet in the oven (some people bake them without the aluminum foil, you can try it both ways).

Bake for about 25 minutes, until plantains are completely cooked through, very soft and sugar has begun to caramelize. Carefully open up the foil making a slit down the middle, open it up, and pour the condensed milk on top.
 
GRILLED PLANTAINS
Serves 2 to 4

INGREDIENTS
2 ripe plantains

TO PREPARE
Preheat grill to medium heat. Individually wrap the unpeeled plantains in aluminum foil and place on the grill.

Let them cook for about 20 to 25 minutes, until they are soft and cooked through. You may also cook them on the upper rack of the grill at a different temperature, but it may take more or less time.

You know they are ready when they feel extremely soft to the touch and the sugar has begin to caramelize.