Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mature Ones

My sister has what might be called a minor obsession with plantains, specifically the ripe, sweet ones known as platanos maduros (mature bananas...unlike some other people around here). She regularly orders a side dish of plantains as her main course at Caribbean restaurants, and here in Colombia over winter break she consumed a truly awe-inspiring quantity of sweet plantains in their numerous preparations traditional to valluno cuisine. On a daily basis, Felipe's mother prepared (and prepares) them simply. Sauteed in a bit of oil, they turn out soft and sweet, light on the (all too often abundant) grease and slightly salty from the salt she sprinkles onto the pan to keep them from sticking. 

Make sure to choose plantains that are completely yellow and already blackening at the tips. A couple of bruises aren't a bad thing, either-- these aren't bananas and won't turn mushy unless they are fully black, in which case they can still be used but you´ll have to handle them more delicately. If you use a plantain that has just turned from green to yellow, it is likely it isn't ready, and won't soften when cooked this way. Plantains that are in between green (platano verde) and maduro are called pintado (painted). Their starch is still in the process of turning into sugar, so they don't cook up sweet. So make sure to use fully maduro plantains for this. If in doubt about the ripeness of your plantains, leave them for a few days longer on the counter or up to a week if your kitchen is on the cold side.

Platano Maduro (Sweet Plantains)

Yellow plantains, halved vertically and then crosswise, peel removed (dark yellow with black edges and bruises)
Vegetable oil

Lightly film a heavy saute pan with oil. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over its surface, then add in the plantains, cut side down.  Don't worry about crowding the pan-- in a 10-in. pan, you can easily fit 2 or even 3 plantains, depending on their size-- you just want to make sure that there is enough room so that face-down cut sides all have full contact with the pan. Put the pan over low heat and cover it. After 5 min., using a spatula, check to see if the undersides are golden. If they are still pale, cover the pan again and check every two minutes. When they are golden, flip each plantain over and cover again, until the rounded sides are fully yellow and beginning to brown just a bit. Don't let them burn. Cut into one of the plantains-- it should be completely soft. If you aren't sure if they are done or not, bite into one of them. If it tastes at all starchy, add a little bit more oil to the pan, cover it back up, and give them a couple of more minutes, always over low heat. 
Sprinkle with additional salt if you want to play up the sweet/salty combination. The standard serving is 1-2 pieces per person (1/4 to 1/2 a plantain) as an accompaniment to a meal of rice, beans and meat; my sister prefers 1-2 plantains per person, and accompanies it with whatever else happens to be around.  I'd say 1/2 a plantain is about right for me, enough so you don't feel cheated, but not so much that you can't function after lunch.

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