Ay, ay, ay! Patita, espérate mamacita! My nanny repeated, as she snatched the hot plantain tightly wrapped in aluminum foil, from my hands. Her hands were more resistant, she insisted, as they were older and had cooked so much. She would hold my chosen package with an open hand, so the camotero (sweet potato street cart man, who also sold plantains) could tear up the foil. As the steam flew up to the skies, he poured a more-than-any-child-could-wish-for amount sweetened condensed milk… and so it fell, sweet ounce, by thick ounce, onto that moist, rich, filling and immensely satisfying treat. Sheer joy, that was.
I devoured it in what seemed a couple bites, just to lick the last but yummiest remains from the crumbled foil. There we were, standing on the street corner where my family lived, mischievously laughing: it was already getting dark, almost dinnertime, and no, no, no, I wasn’t supposed to be having any. Oh dear, how I miss that woman! Now every time I eat a plantain, I get a sparkle of that sheer joy.
So I understand my boys when they rush out to the street, their heartbeats pumping so loud I can clap their rhythms, as I scream out wait, wait, wait!, as that annoying ice cream truck song approaches. Yes, right before dinner, thank you Mr. Ice Cream Man. I once felt that too, with an even more shrilling whistle coming out from the camotero street cart.
We used to eat cooked ripe plantains throughout the year, and ironically, they seemed to taste even better during the hot and rainy summer months. As some people say, sometimes hot, beats the heat…
(Plantains on my dining room table, the one covered in black spots is ripe and ready to be cooked)
Plantains, called macho bananas, plátano macho, in many areas of Mexico, can just change gears and move from one course to another. Eaten as described above, they make an original dessert or an anytime sweet treat. Covered in foil and thrown on the grill, and along some grilled meat or chicken with a spicy kick, they make an incredible side. All you need is a simple salad and you have a wholesome tasty meal. If you forgot to eat them and you are already moving to dessert, just drizzle some sweet condensed milk, honey, sugar, Rompope, or ice cream on top! I don’t think one can say this about many other ingredients… maybe sweet potatoes or grilled pineapples…
Another option to eat ripe plantains, which is extremely popular, is to fry them, plátanos fritos. They are peeled, thickly and diagonally sliced (to make them pretty, why not?) and as they brown in the hot oil, their sugar caramelizes. So when you start to bite in, you get a sweet crunch, and when you are deep into the bite, you get a gently mushy and soft finish.
In Mexican cooking, fried plantains are famously eaten on top of white rice, as in the main post photo. This brings a nice contrast of sweet and soft with savory and coarse. If you want to go over the top, drizzle some Mexican or Latin style cream or sour cream as a finishing touch. Try that… and you will have a piece of sheer bliss too.
NOTE: Click here to read about plantains, how to buy them and how to recognize when they are ripe. Of course, there are other ways to eat them when they are not ripe, as they do in the Gulf Coast, but that is a topic for a future post… meanwhile enjoy one of these three ways to eat them ripe, or try them all!
White Rice and Fried Plantains
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- 2 cups long-grain white rice
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus more for frying plantains
- 1/2 cup white onion finely chopped
- 4 cups chicken stock prepared or homemade
- 1 celery stalk cut in half
- 1 fresh parsley sprig
- 1 tablespoon lime juice or to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste
- 2 ripe plantains peeled and sliced
- 1 serrano chile
- sour cream to garnish, optional
To prepare the rice:
- Place the rice in a large bowl and cover with very hot water; let it soak anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring softly for 2 to 3 minutes. Incorporate the onion and stir, from time to time, until the rice begins to change to a milky-white color and feels and sounds heavier, as if it were grains of sand; about 3 to 4 more minutes.Pour in the chicken stock, along with the celery, parsley, lime juice, salt and whole chile.
- When it comes to a rolling boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook until the rice is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. If the rice grains don’t seem soft and cooked through, add a bit more chicken broth or water and let it cook for another 5 more minutes or so.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork when ready to serve. Place the cooked plantains (below) on top. Place sour cream on the side for people to add to their rice and plantains if they like.
To prepare the plantains:
- Note: The skin of the plantain should be almost entirely black when it is mature and ready to use in this recipe.
- Peel the plantains and slice them diagonally into 1/4-inch thick slices.
- In a sauté pan, over medium heat, add about 1/4-inch of oil. Heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the plantain slices and fry until browned but not blackened, about 2 minutes per side, the oil should be bubbling around their edges of the plantain slices as they cook.
- Remove the plantains from the oil and drain them on a plate covered with paper towels.