Anyone who has dined in a cuban restaurant should be familiar with fried ripe (sweet) plaintains – and know that when they’re good, they are REALLY good – sweet, caramelized, and delicious… but when they’re bad, they’re dense, doughy, and bland. The key? Semantics. “Ripe” in the plantain world doesn’t mean golden and inviting like a ripe banana – or even modestly spotted. It’s way past inviting, and even farther than banana bread territory. The first time I tried to replicate the dish at home after having some particularly fantastic ones at a local cuban place, I looked up instructions online that told me “even some mold is acceptable,” but I wasn’t quite ready to commit.
A ripe sweet plantain will be completely, or almost completely black, starting to soften, and may sport some small spots of mold. No really, the mold is ok. You want the mold. At this phase the sugars have become concentrated to break down the starchiness of a green or not quite ripe fruit, and change the flavor from bland to “dessert.” It may take a few weeks if you buy your plantains while they’re still green – they’re not at all an “on demand” food; it’s much more like waiting for a delicious surprise.
Check out my last batch – they’re like the banana’s terrifying zombie cousin at this stage:
Once you’ve got actually truly ripened sweet plaintain, run you knife along the length of the plantain so you can peel it (the skin is tougher than a banana) and slice into rounds on a diagonal to maximize flat surface area. Get a pan of oil (I use coconut oil both for flavor and the higher smoke point, although canola works) heated over medium-medium high depending on your burner. You want it hot enough that the plantains sizzle going into the pan, but not so hot that it gets all rude and spits back at you.
I like to keep an eye so it doesn’t get too hot, and cook my plantains a little slowly so they can get golden brown and caramelized on the outside. The slightly orange color of them will brighten to intense yellow as they are getting done.
They’re delicious as is, or you can get adventurous and sprinkle some curry powder or salt & cayenne on them if spicy is your thing. (Curry powder is my favorite way yum!)
So on’t be scared. They look like moldy giant fingers of death… but inside they’re waiting to be warn, chewy, caramelized goodness!