The Plantain Wars

In my first posting I included a recipe for fried plantains, or tostones. Actually, it was my first recipe on this blog. Other recipes have followed. As noted, in my other avocation, I teach martial arts at the Chinese Kung-Fu Wu-Su Association ( Well, one of my fellows at the association, 2nd Degree Instructor Tyree Grant, and a rising star within the Association, commented to me yesterday on the recipe. He wasn't too enthused about it. Not that it wasn't a good recipe, only that he had expected a recipe on sweet plantains, to which he and his family are partial. And this brought up one of the age-old arguments that has befuddled Caribbean cuisine. Think of other controversies regarding food: like the argument over creamy peanut butter as opposed to chunky style (I prefer the chunky version); or white rice over brown rice which is supposedly more nutritious (I still prefer white rice simply because I was brought up with it); or home fries vs. french fries (I prefer home fries); or even whether red wine should always be served with meat. I have found delicious reds (gamay, bardolino, valpolicella, etc.) that go well with fish. So there.
It all depends on individual preference. No one is right, and no one is wrong. I, myself, prefer green plantains in the tostones mold. In my family, when I was growing up in Spanish Harlem, we only had sweet plantains for breakfast, with eggs, sausages and ham. Green plantains were served for lunch and dinner. In the Caribbean islands, from my experience, that is still the norm. I cannot speak for Central and Latin America, although I know plantains are also prepared in their cuisine.
See, this is the way it goes. A plantain is a tropical perennial herb (Musa paradisiaca) which renders an edible, bananalike fruit. But it is not a banana. The plantain (Platano in Spanish) comes out in its raw state as a bright green color. As it ripens it turns yellowish; and when it's really ripe and on the verge of rotting, it becomes a dark, almost black in texture. Aficionados of ripe plantains like it because it's sweet. Fried green plantains don't have a sweet taste. I cannot explain the flavor; simply that it's an acquired taste. But once you had a tostone, with a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil, you'll come back for more. That's guaranteed. On my last trip to Puerto Rico I noticed that some restaurants started serving tostones with french dressing. What's that all about? It's like in France where they serve french fries with mayonnaise. I guess the more adventurous culinary cultures, with time, modify almost any dish.
Let me state that plantains today can be found most anywhere. Most supermarkets do carry them. I have found plantains even in the north country of Vermont. Traditionally, any Hispanic or ethnic market carries them.
Anyway, for all you iconoclasts (I love them $20 words) below is a recipe for sweet ripe plantains (Platanos Amarillos). It's simple, no-nonsense, and tasty (if you like sweet stuff). So, Tyree, my brother-in-training, here's the recipe I promised to you and to all those who savor platanos. And just to show that I can be magnanimous (another $20 word) and hold no grudges, I've included two ways of making ripe plantains. One involves boiling for the more health conscious; and the other is the traditional fried method.

PLANTANOS AMARILLOS (Sweet Ripe Plantains)

Method I:
3 ripe plantains

1. Take 3 ripe plantains and cut in half crosswise at a slant.
2. Boil in water (combined with 1 tablespoon salt) until tender (about 4-5 minutes).
3. Drain and let cool. Cut a slit along the length of the halves and peel. Cut into diagonal slices 1 to 2 inches thick and serve.
Yield: 12 to 15 pieces.

Method II:
3 ripe plantains
Vegetable oil for frying (can use extra virgin olive oil, if desired)

1. Peel 3 ripe plantains. Cut into diagonal slices about 1/2-inch thick and 3 inches long.
2. Deep-fry in hot oil until slightly browned and tender (about 3-4 minutes). Drain on paper towels.
Yield: 12-18 pieces.

Friends, that's it for now. So, until the next time, hang by your thumbs and write if you get work (with credits to Bob and Ray).

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