You say plantain, I say plantain – huh? If you are not aware of regional differences in the way people pronounce plantain you may not know that there are other pronunciations. In the northeast it is common to hear it pronounced “plan-tin”. If you say that in the south you are likely to hear, “oh you mean ‘plan-tane’”.
No matter how you pronounce it, plantains can be a wonderful part of many meals. Part of the family, “Musa” (that includes bananas), they contain more starch and less sugar that bananas. For this reason they are usually eaten cooked.
Plantains feed a huge portion of the world’s population. Plantains are popular in Africa, the Caribbean Islands, coastal regions of South America, tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Oceania. The ways they are prepared and eaten are as diverse as the cultures who live in these regions.
Plantains may be sweet or savory, Green plantains are always eaten cooked and are frequently fried and consumed similarly to chips. In some regions, plantains are boiled and mixed with sugar and water to make the drink, “chap”. Plantains become sweeter as they ripen. Ripe plantains are used in many different ways: snacks, desserts, bases for soups, in fritters, etc.
So let’s get into cooking them. First thing to know, is that even though they resemble bananas, they take a little more prep. To peel a plantain, take a sharp knife, cut off each end, then lightly score down the length of the plantain (taking care not to cut very deeply, as you’re just trying to cut the peel). From here, you’ll be able to peel the plantain fairly easily, particularly if it is ripe.
One popular and simple way to prepare ripe plantains is to simply cut them into pieces and fry them. Fried until golden brown, the sugar will caramelize and create a sweet and tasty snack or appetizer. You may also see these paired with crema fresca and/or cheese (often queso blanco). Generally, the riper they are before cooking, the sweeter they will be.
To make maduros, or fried sweet plantains, after peeling, you will want to slice the plantain in sections. Some people will cut it into disks, some people into strips. It doesn’t really matter as to which way you go with this one. You’ll need some hot fat to cook them in – preferably something with a high smoke point…pastured lard or beef tallow is a good choice if you have it available to you. You can also use coconut oil or sustainably sourced palm oil. Fry the plantain pieces in a deep skillet in an inch or so of melted hot fat, turning frequently until very brown. Drain and serve. They’re best eaten right after cooking, but if you have any leftovers, they’re still pretty tasty warmed over!