Thursday, April 2, 2009

Plantain a Go-Go, a quick meal

Preparing plantains is not hard, but it does take a teeny bit of know-how.

First, choosing your plantain: If your plantain looks like a perfect banana, let it sit a week. Forget about it. When you finally remember, you'll see this yucky black and blemished skin and say to yourself, "Damn, there's 99 cents down the drain." Ah, but this is the perfect moment! The trick to plantains is to use them only when they look just about ready to be composted. Before that, they're tasteless and overly starchy. After that, well, it's hard to scrape off the coffee grounds and potato peels.

Prepping: Peeling them isn't like peeling a banana. You'll need to chop off the hard ends and then score the peel down the length in a few places. An unripe plantain will be a bear to peel, with the peel itself sticking to the flesh of the plantain like, well, like unripe plantain. A ripe one will roll out of its skin much the way a banana can.

There are many ways to use a plantain, but here's how we like them. It's a variation on a Latin dish, but we only fry them once (more in a minute).

Cooking: Cut the plantains into 1 1/2 to 2 inch slices Using a flat bottomed bowl or other similar utensil, apply even downward pressure to squash the plantain slice. Don't mash it completely onto the cutting board, but get them good and flat. (there is a sort of hinge that does this specifically, but who really needs it unless you're making this all the time? Besides, squishing is fun!)

Bring equal parts canola and olive oil to hot temperature in a skillet. You don't need a ton, just enough to come half way up your squished plantains. (FYI, the traditional latin dish fries the plantains once in their sliced form, then squishes, then fries a second time in squashed form.) Fry to a lovely brown crisp, flip and allow to color on the other side; drain on a paper towel. Salt immediately with kosher or sea salt. Yummmmmm.

We served them with roasted asparagus and carrots, baked at 375 for 20 minutes or so with a drizzle of olive oil and a few shakes of citrus basil rub. You could just as easily use salt and pepper, but I happen to have this on hand.

For protein we made Sizzle Shrimp, one of my favorite quick night meals. Since I was spending more time on the plantains, it was an easy way to make the meal still get to the table in a little amount of time. Put about 2 Tbsp sambol olek in a large skillet and fry in about a teaspoon of olive oil until fragrant and yummy, about a minute. Add the fresh juice of about half a lime. Quickly arrange a pound of shelled, raw shrimp in the pan, making sure the shrimp do not overlap. When the pink color comes half way up the shrimp, flip them over and immediately add a healthy few grinds of black pepper and about a teaspoon of splenda. One could use sugar, but would probably want to add it in differently so that it dissolved. Toss the shrimp in the pan, coating with the oil and sauce, and add the rest of the lime juice. Serve immediately, making sure not to overcook the shrimp. You might want to have crusty bread to sop up the sauce.
Too spicy? Try reducing the sambol olek and increasing the lime. You could also put a splash of white wine or even stock to flesh out the sauce a bit.

Is it the quickest meal I've ever made? Of course not. But it comes in well under 30 minutes, and packs a lot of flavor. The shrimp are sweet from the natural sweetness of the shellfish, and spicy and bright, too. The splenda in them only offsets the sourness of the lime, but doesn't make it actually sweet. The asparagus are crispy and soft all at once, and melt in your mouth. The plantains are crunchy on the outside, soft inside, with a banana sweetness but also a starchy backbone. Try one of these components, or the whole meal, the next time you are wandering the produce aisle and get inspired.


  1. What is sambol olek? You are adressing a novice in this. Loved the pictures, I thought I was reading a cookbook. Thanks for the recipes and presentation. B. the Mom

  2. Sambal oelek, B. the Mom, is thai chili paste. Pure concentrated yummy hotness.

    And sweetie, is the traditional method to fry, and then squish, and then fry again? I'm not sure I knew that...

  3. I'll maybe do a whole post on sambal oelek (or sambol olek or however it's spelled). I really like it, and it's a little obscure but very accessable to my mind. Thanks for asking about it, B the Mom!

    It is the traditional method, honeybear. I saw it on Postcards from Buster (remember that show?) and also on food network somewhere.

    They are called Tostones. Try looking here

    or here

  4. I DO remember Postcards from Buster. Of course!

    Hmm... Maybe we need to try them that way...?