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Exotic chips inspire a classic Cuban dish

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The other day I was shopping at Restaurant Depot and, no, I didn’t mention it in either of my grocery store columns because it’s not a store for typical foodies. It’s a huge food warehouse where restaurants and other food-related businesses shop for bulk food or disposable food-service items.

Anyhooo, one of my sons noticed a large bag of plantain chips and asked if he could try them. Was I happy with this? You know it! I love it when my teenagers actually request interesting food and plantains definitely fit that bill.

For those of you not in-the-know, the plantain originated in India yet it’s used mainly in West African, Central and South American, and Caribbean cuisines. The plantain, a member of the banana family, looks like a banana on steroids. There are several differences between standard bananas and these ’roided-up cousins. First is the size–they’re about a third bigger than a standard banana. And they’re much starchier and can be used in different ways, depending on ripeness.

A green or unripe plantain is generally used as a savory ingredient. Think of it as a tuber, like a potato or a turnip. That means, my hungry little friends, they’re perfect for rustic stews and soups. The Colombians lay claim to an exquisite version: Sopa de Pollo y Plantano Verde, featuring diced green plantains, chicken and corn. This is not traditionally a spicy soup, but a chipotle in adobo might make it a tad more interesting. Just sayin’. 

Puerto Ricans, aka the doctors of deliciousness, have a way with these starchy little gems as well. They have a dish with the fun name of Mofongo. In this terrific example of rural culinary genius, green plantains are cut into a rough dice, fried, then mashed to a smooth-ish consistency before becoming the bed for a succulent Puerto Rican-style shrimp creole. YUM!

As the plantain ripens, the sweeter and softer it becomes. This makes it perfect for exotic-sounding desserts. I have caramelized thick slices of the ripened fruit to garnish Tres Leches Cake. How about slicing them horizontally, gently grilling them and glazing the hot caramelized slices with a rum, brown sugar and reduced orange juice—not bad, eh?

BTW, if you do buy a bag of plantain chips, they make an amazing Cheffed Up chip to scoop up a Cuban goodie: picadillo.
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CHEF BILL’S Picadillo
Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 lb. ground beef, browned and drained
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil, or as needed
  • 1 medium onion, brunoise
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, brunoise
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp. garlic, paste
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 oz. white wine
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed olives
  • 2 tbsp. capers
  • Cayenne, salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Sweat the onions in oil until translucent; add the garlic peppers and cumin. Continue to sweat until peppers soften.
  2. Stir in tomato paste and caramelize. Deglaze with white wine, reduce au sec.
  3. Reduce heat and add remaining ingredients. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Until we cook again,
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Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at cheffedup@folioweekly.com to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!

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