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~Sweet & Caramelized Island-Spiced Yellow Plantains~

IMG_2137The closest a plantain gets to a ripe banana is the black-streaked yellow plantain.  Eaten raw, it still doesn't taste quite like, or have the mouthfeel of, a yellow banana, but, when sautéed, because of its high-starch and fully-developed sugar content, it can do something the banana can't: caramelize without losing its textural integrity.  Sweet and caramelized, and slightly-sticky-without-sticking-together, this quick-to-make side-dish is the perfect sweet complement to the fiery-hot flavors of Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats.

Let's talk plantains:  Ripe or unripe, plantains are eaten cooked.

IMG_1910The best way for me to culinarily describe the difference between the banana and a plantain:  If bananas are the sweet dessert course, plantains are the savory potato side-dish.  In fact, throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and South America, plantains are generically referred to as "cooking bananas", and bananas are referred to as "dessert bananas".

Like the banana, when it comes to the plantain, green denotes unripened, yellow denotes ripened, and everything in between is just another degree of ripe.  Unlike the banana, the dense, starchy plantain is almost always cooked before it's consumed -- while the fully-ripe yellow plantain can be eaten uncooked, for me, it's blandness makes it so boring, that after a bite or two, I just won't go on to finish it.  Depending on the recipe, sometimes it's desirable to choose the green, persnickity-to-peel-and-slice plantain.  Other times, you'll find the more agreeable, user-friendly mellow-yellow plantain on the ingredients list.  On this point, always follow the recipe.

For this reason, plantains are sold at all stages of culinary ripeness.  The all-green plantain can be peeled, diced and simmered in soups and stews.  A green- to- ever-so-slightly-yellow plantain can be peeled and sliced and kettle-fried until golden and crispy --  depending on how thick or thin the slices, they can be as crispy as a potato chips (chifles), or crispy-on-the-outside tender-on-the-inside and French-fry-esque (tostones).  The yellow- to- yellow-and-black-spotted plantain, when sliced to the desired thickness and sautéed will be done when it is soft throughout, golden and caramelized.  Plantains that ripen to a dark black color are well on their way to spoiling.

IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_2312The riper a plantain is, the easier it is to peel and slice or dice as directed. Photos 1 & 2:  Yellow plantains are the easiest to peel -- use a paring knife to trim the ends, score the length of skin in one spot, remove the skin with your fingertips, then slice with the knife.  Photos 3 & 4:  Green plantains range from difficult to pain-in-the-a**-difficult to peel -- use a paring knife to trim the ends, score the length of the skin in several spots, remove the skin in strips with your fingertips, then slice with a mandolin.  Photo 5:  In the event the green skin is too tough to remove in strips with fingertips, slice/section the unpeeled plantain into three-four smaller lengths, stand them up on their flat sides, and use the knife to strip the skin away from the fruit.

Tajaditas Dulces de Plantano (sweet plantains) = yellow plantains.

IMG_2130Bananas and plantains -- they resemble each other, and they're related too.   I eat a banana almost every morning, but, I can't say the same for the plantain.  By accident or out of curiosity, if you've ever peeled a plantain and taken a taste, you knew you weren't eating a banana. That said, when sautéed, the taste and texture of the yellow plantain is remarkable.  As a lover of sautéed bananas, a la bananas foster for dessert, or atop eggnog pancakes w/sautéed butter-rum 'n nog bananas, I find this fascinating.

IMG_20943  black-streaked, not black, yellow plantains, peeled and cut into 3/4"-thick discs

6  tablespoons lightly-packed light-brown sugar

1/4  teaspoon ground Jamaican allspice

1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

6  tablespoons peanut oil

IMG_2097 IMG_2097~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir to thoroughly combine the lightly-packed light-brown sugar with the ground Jamaican allspice, cinnamon, cloves and sea salt -- make sure the spices are thoroughly incorporated throughout.  Set aside.

IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103~Step 2.  Peel and slice each plantain into 3/4"-thick coins, placing them in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish as you work.  Even thickness = even cooking. Add the sugar mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, toss plantains in sugar mixture to coat.  Note:  My baking dish has a lid so I just seal it tight and give the dish a few vigorous shakes.

IMG_2117 IMG_2117 IMG_2117 ~Step 3.  Place and heat the oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium- medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, little waves will appear across the surface.  Using your fingertips, one-at-a time, gently place the plantains, side-by-side and in a single layer, in the hot oil.  Sauté until light-golden on the first side, about 4-5 minutes.  With the aid of a fork and/or a thin spatula, flip plantains over (without poking holes in them) and cook until light-golden on second sides, 4-5 minutes. Throughout the cooking process, regulate/adjust the heat as needed, to keep plantains sizzling without scorching.  

IMG_2148~ Step 4.  With the aid of a fork and/or a thin spatula transfer plantains (without poking holes in them) to 1-2 plates.  Allow plantains to rest on the plate, 1-1 1/2 minutes, then flip them over and allow them to rest again for 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Repeat the entire flipping process from start-to-finish one more time prior to transferring to a serving bowl -- plantains will be sticky, but manageable, and this post-sauté flipping process prevents them from sticking together when served.

Serve hot, warm or at room temp.  Once cooled, cover & store in refrigerator, then serve chilled or gently reheated in microwave.

IMG_2126Chifles (deep-fried plantain chips) = green plantains. 

IMG_2006Sweet & Caramelized Island-Spiced Yellow Plantains:  Recipe yields 4 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish, preferably w/a lid; large rubber spatula; 12" nonstick skillet; fork and/or thin spatula

IMG_1236Cook's Note:  I don't cook Caribbean food often, but when I do, it's island-style good.  Thanks to a couple of chef friends, I know just enough about this cuisine to be dangerous without straying from the core flavors. ~ Don't Worry, Be Happy: Jamaican-Style Beef Patties ~. 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)


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