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.
CHEF BILL’S Picadillo
- 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
- Sweat the onions in oil until translucent; add the garlic peppers and cumin. Continue to sweat until peppers soften.
- Stir in tomato paste and caramelize. Deglaze with white wine, reduce au sec.
- Reduce heat and add remaining ingredients. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Adjust seasoning to taste.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at firstname.lastname@example.org to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!