The fruit of a large tree-like tropical herb. Plantains belong to the banana family, but are larger, starchier, and not as sweet. It has a squash-like flavor and is used much like a potato. Also called the “cooking banana.”
Plantains, “potatoes of the air” or “cooking bananas,” are the fruit of the Musa Paradisiaca, a type of banana plant. Plantains are more starchy than sweet and must be cooked before being eaten. They are a staple crop in much of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia and are served boiled, steamed, baked, or fried. In these countries plantains are consumed as a vegetable. Plantains resemble bananas but are longer, thicker and starchier in flavor. They can be prepared in all stages of ripeness, with nearly no waste and have excellent taste. As a plantain ripens, its high starch content changes to sugar. Plantains also keep their shape when cooked, unlike bananas, which get mushy. They can be used in soups, stews, boiled and mashed.
Most Puerto Rican recipes that use plantains call for green plantains. Plátanos verdes need to be VERY green without a hint of yellow. The next stage of ripeness is when the skin is mostly yellow with a few black speckles. In this stage of ripeness, the plantain has lost some of its starch and is slightly sweet. Plantains at this stage can be thinly sliced and fried, mashed or they can be baked until tender and served with roasted meats.
When a plantain is totally ripe, the peel is almost completely black. Although these plantains might look past their prime, this is when their sugar content is the highest but the flesh is still nice and firm. It is at this stage that the plantain most resembles a banana. A ripe plantain can be used in savory or sweet dishes. You pan-fry them with some butter, rum, and brown sugar and serve over ice cream.
Season: available year-round
How to select: When buying ripe plantains, they should be firm and not mushy or cracked.
How to prepare: deep-fry, saute, simmer
Matches well with: bacon, black beans, butter, cinnamon, nuts, pineapples, rum, sour cream