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Plantains

In the Southern Hemisphere, a good part of the dinner is this cooking banana, which is served not for dessert but as a main dish. In the tropics and subtropics, it’s treated like a staple – fried, baked, boiled, grilled, or combined with other fruits and vegetables.

Imported from Central America, the plantain is often ignored here because people judge it as if it were a banana and decide it’s either too-green, too black, or too large. Don’t let its looks deceive you. Unless a plantain is rock hard, moldy, or practically liquid, chances are it is good. For each stage of ripeness, the plantain has a different taste and different cooking requirements.

When the peel is green to yellow, plantains are bland and starchy and can be cooked like potatoes. As the peel changes from yellow to black, the plantain gradually changes its character from vegetable to fruit, developing greater sweetness and a banana aroma but holding its firm shape, even after cooking. Unlike a banana, a black plantain is merely ripe. Take the greener ones home and let them ripen. At room temperature, they’ll ripen slowly to the stage you want.

Season

Like bananas, plantains are imported year-round.

Selecting

You can usually find plantains at all stages of ripeness. Because they’re firmer, a ripe plantain is less likely to be bruised than a banana, but you don’t want it mushy. A black plantain should still feel firm. Avoid plantains that are cracked or moldy.

Storing

Plantains last a long time at room temperature, gradually ripening and changing color. When a plantain is black, it should still feel as firm as a firm banana. If it’s still very hard, throw it out. Even when it’s ripe, a plantain keeps well. It can be refrigerated if you wish, and unlike a banana it can also be frozen. To freeze, peel the plantain first and wrap tightly in plastic.

Preparing

The greener the plantain, the harder it is to peel. A black plantain will peel like a banana, other stages are unpredictable. For greener plantains, cut off both ends, then score the skin lengthwise in several places to make peeling easier.

Experience will teach you what degree of ripeness is best for your purposes, but generally, a green or greenish plantain will be very hard and starchy, with little banana flavor and no sweetness. They require a fairly long cooking time and, like potatoes, can be boiled or mashed. They are excellent sliced thin and fried like potato chips, or cut into chunks, boiled, and added to salty or spicy soups and stews.

Yellow-ripe plantains can be prepared in the same ways, but they will have a lovely creamy texture and a light banana scent when they’re cooked. They are much more-tender than green plantains but much firmer than bananas. You can rinse them, cut into fairly thick cross sections, boil until tender, then peel the chunks and serve them as a side dish. If you plan to add them to soups, stews, or vegetable mixtures, peel them first.

Half-ripe plantains are also excellent grilled. Cuban cooks peel the plantains, cut them on the diagonal, and grill them slowly over a low fire with a little oil or melted butter. Turn and brush them with additional oil or butter until they are tender and creamy inside.

Black-ripe plantains are superb cooked any way you would cook a ripe banana. They’re delicious sautéed and will cook for a longer time than bananas without falling apart, permitting full development of their flavor and aroma. They’ll also absorb the flavors of whatever seasonings you use.

Other recipes from Produce Pete.

   

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