Ingredients

Plantain Primer

How to buy, store, ripen, and prep Latin cooking's top banana.
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Published Aug. 3, 2021.

In the United States, the dessert banana dominates supermarket shelves, but in the Caribbean Basin and Latin America, its starchier botanical cousin, the plantain, proliferates. The fruit is so integral to the cuisines of these areas, “we think of it as ours,” noted the Cuban-born chef and culinary historian Maricel Presilla, author of the award-winning exploration of Latin cooking Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America (2012). 

In truth, the plantain is an import that originated in Asia; traveled to Africa; and then made its way to the Americas in the 1500s, where enslaved Africans helped spread it across the region. The reasons the fruit took hold are simple: The plantain not only grows readily in tropical climates but also has the rare quality of being edible at all stages of ripeness. And culinarily, its transformation from dense and starchy to plush and sweet offers unlimited possibility. This cooking banana can be used at discrete points in its ripening cycle or combined at different stages for a specific effect—to blend a firmer texture with a creamier one, say, or a nuttier taste with a fruitier one. “The sky's the limit,” said Presilla. 

Buying plantains

Color is one way to determine ripeness, but assessing texture is also important, because overly cool temperatures can cause darkening but slow ripening.

Green

Intensely green. Mildly nutty with no hint of sweetness. Should feel firm and full in their skins.

Half-Ripe

Yellowy green, with a few dark spots. Faintly sweet. Should yield slightly to the touch.

Very Ripe

Heavily to entirely blackened. Fruity and sweet. Should be soft like a fully ripe avocado.

 

 

Storing and ripening plantains

Stored at cool room temperature, green plantains won’t change color for at least a week. They become half-ripe after several more days and ripe to very ripe a week or so later. To accelerate ripening, place the plantains in a paper bag.

 

Peeling plantains

Plantain skins are tougher than those of other bananas, and they can be hard to remove, even after their outer layer has thinned with ripening. This method can help.

1. Cut off both ends of plantain. With tip of paring knife, make 1 cut lengthwise through skin, taking care not to cut through to fruit.

2. Pull away skin from side versus lengthwise. If plantain is green, you may need to use a spoon to help lift skin from fruit.

Pastelón (Puerto Rican Sweet Plantain and Picadillo Casserole)

With its layers of fried sweet plantains cushioning briny, sofrito-laced ground beef, this Puerto Rican casserole is the epitome of comfort food.
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Fried Sweet Plantains (Plátanos Maduros)

Fried plantains are eaten in many Latin American countries. For our version of Cuban-style plátanos maduros, we made sure to select very ripe plantains with black peels.
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