Curiosity: Fried Plantains with Coconut Caramel Sauce

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

-A simple, tropical dessert that's perfect for the colder months.-

For years we passed over them in the grocery store in lieu of the safer, more familiar bananas. For as long as I could remember they were always there; those other bananas. Ones that weren't yellow, but instead a deep burgundy-brown color. A color I, for whatever reason deduced by childhood logic, assumed was the de-facto lipstick color for black and white movie stars like Vivian Leigh and Tallulah Bankhead. If it wasn't those tiny red ones, then there were those ginormous bananas that were as hard as rocks and called plantains.

I would ask my mom if we could get one, but every time she said no. "Let's just get the regular bananas," and she would find the biggest, greenest bunch on the display and bag it. The discussion would be closed and I would analyze the oddly huge plantains and tiny red bananas a quick second more before moving on. Maybe next time we would get them.

Sure, there were more intriguing pineapples nearby, whose pokey shape tempted my curiosity. (I would always prick my finger on the punk-rock spines on top, as if always to make sure that, yes, they were indeed sharp.) Piles of kiwis were always scattered about in large piles; it was, after all, the nineties. Mangoes and the humid fragrance they carried with them were only just making their way to the supermarkets. Yet, these strange bananas were the real mystery. Always present.

-Twice fried, these plantains have a slightly crispy exterior with the interior being hot, sweet, and a little bit starchy.-

I think it was because these doppelgangers bordered the familiar. When something is completely foreign we simply accept that it's a mystery. Something to be figured out. The fact that it's unknown from the start is what makes it so natural and acceptable. These banana look-alikes weren't like that though. These were familiar. They had an appearance so similar to what was a regular, everyday food to me. Yet, they had characteristics that were unable to be ascertained. They were aberrations in my otherwise orderly and understood world.

I reasoned, then, that if these fruits looked like bananas then they probably tasted like bananas, but only different. I was curious what they taste like. Would they be sweeter? Bitter? Harder to eat? The plantains were always hard as potatoes. I wondered if they tasted like bananas but had the crisp texture of an apple? What if it tasted totally different, like a steak or piece of over-steamed cauliflower? The prospects were both horrifying and appetizing, but exciting all the same.

Then years went by. I grew up and began to do my own shopping. Even as a younger teen, then college student, and all the sudden an adult (still not sure when that happened) I still passed over them. "Maybe I'll buy one next time," I thought. For years, since my childhood, I passed them over for next time. Next time, when I had an extra hour or more of a budget to play around with strange tropical fruits.

-In my opinions, there aren't enough desserts out there that come with a dipping sauce.-

Finally, one day, out of nowhere, I decided to get some and cook them. As if all my childhood curiosity had been suddenly stirred I was filled with a need to play with plantains. I quickly did a google search and picked up some information. After grazing over some recipes and sites I knew the following:
  • Plantains are big.
  • Plantains are starchy and must be cooked.
  • Black plantains are sweeter.
  • Plantains are popular in Cuba, Peru, Uganda, Taiwan and the Dominican Republic. Really, anywhere not continental North America, Australia, or Europe.
  • Plantains are best when fried and served with a sweet or savory dipping sauce, or when stuffed with spiced beef and baked.
Busy as hell that day I called BF and asked him if he would hop over to the store and pick some up. After a quick explanation of what a plantain was, "Look by the bananas. They're the giant looking ones you could fight crime with. Pick up the black ones." With that he was off, promising to have them sitting on the counter when I got home.

I arrived home to see that BF had failed me. There they sat; tiny and red. "Um, sweetie, these are red bananas. Not plantains."

"What? But, the sign said plantains."

"Yes, well, they would have been sitting there next to the bananas too, yes. But do these look like giant bananas you could fight crime with? You would get your ass kicked with these."

-Should you prefer, these can be served as a simple snack or appetizer as well. Just squeeze some lime juice over them for a more savory snack.-

"Not if you threw them." Touche', but still, failure none the less. So, BF and I made another quick run to the store for the plantains and where he showed me the source of his confusion. The signs were skewed and not lined up with the actual fruits. In front of the the plantains was a sign for red bananas that sat close to me in front of the plantains, while the sign for the plantains sat a little to the left of the pile. Still... BF fessed up, "I wasn't paying much attention. I just kinda dashed in and dashed out." I shrugged at him and picked a few giant, seemingly ripe plantains. I guess I would get to try both mystery fruits. I assumed my inner child was appeased and left it at that.

Back home, I decided to sit down and try these fruits out. I would satisfy my curiosity once and for all.

The red banana peeled back to reveal a typical looking banana. The flesh had a slight blush to it that I found somewhat amusing. Taste-wise it - surprise - tasted like a banana. Maybe with a slight tang; the kind you would associate with a raspberry. Not the flavor of one, just the tang. Otherwise, it was like any other banana.

It was all a bit sad really. No great revelation. No more mystery. All I had was a red banana peel and a sense that it could have used a few more days to ripen.

I knew it was fruitless to try the plantain raw. Just picking it up I could tell it had all the edibility of a raw potato. I decided that I would simply give it a double fry treatment. This meant lightly frying small discs of the plantain to soften it, before squishing them and tossing them in for a final fry. A simple caramel sauce made from brown sugar and coconut milk would sauce them and make it an easy, tropical dessert that wouldn't just contrast against the dull, Autumn weather outside, but appetizingly demystify the plantain.

-Red bananas. A nifty, slightly tangy alternative to yellow bananas.-

The gently cooked plantains resulted in sweet, soft fruit with a nicely crisp skin. The sonorously rich caramel sauce complimented the starchy flavors of the plantain. The dessert was something whose simple decadence rivaled the most chocolate-heavy dishes. Unlike the tarted-up red bananas, whose outward appearance seems to promise more than the flesh can deliver, plantains have a unique flavor. Yes, they're slightly banana-esque, but they possess a custard flavor and pound cake texture that bananas don't have. Eating each piece of caramel soaked plantain reminded me of plates of warm, freshly made flan.

In the end, my curiosity was satisfied. It seemed that an inquisitive nature and desire to know new foods, even ones that are readily available, can lead to new tastes and even the quelling of childhood questions.

Next up on my foreign fruit list? The quest for fresh mangosteen.

-Sometimes you have to venture out of your comfort zone and chase curiosity to experience something truly flavorful.-

Fried Plantains
2 ripe plantains
vegetable oil for frying

1. Cut open the plantain and cut into discs about 3/4-inch thick. Set aside.

2. Place oil in a fry pan. You want the oil to be about 1/4-inch deep. Warm oil over medium heat, to about 180F if measured with a thermometer. Place the plantains in the oil being sure not to crowd them (you will probably have to do this in batches. The oil will bubble around the plantains. Fry for 2 minutes on each side, then set on a paper towel lined plate to drain.

3. Lightly squish each plantain a bit so it has more surface area. Fry the plantains a second time, about 4 minutes on both sides being careful not to burn them. Drain on a paper towel lined plate and serve hot.

Coconut Caramel Sauce
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of coconut milk
pinch of kosher salt

Place the brown sugar in a small but high sauce pot. Warm over medium-high heat while consistently stirring with a spoon until melted. While stirring slowly pour in the coconut milk. The mixture will bubble and froth violently, and some of the sugar may crystallize a bit. Continue to stir until the sugar and coconut milk have mixed together and the sauce has reduced a bit. About 5 minutes. Take off heat and stir in the salt. This will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.


  1. ohh those fried plantains with coconut caramel sauce sounds heavenly! i love anything fried. i had fried bananas once and they were spectacular.

  2. Big fan of your blog and recipes.... And thanks to this post, I now have a mad crave for this deliciously awesome treat! **yum** ;)

  3. Thank you for a great post, they look very good, can't wait to try it although I have always been drawn to the savory side, twice fried and then mashed with sofrito, but the tropical dessert side looks tempting now :)

  4. This has definitely inspired me to try a plantain when I next see a ripe one. (Probably when I get back to Australia - Germany is a bit hesitant on anything 'exotic'.) As for mangosteens, I could eat those for the rest of my life and be happy about it. They're incredible.

  5. Must have to try them with the dipping sauce! Plantains are very versatile. In Puerto Rico we eat them the way you prepared them (except for the sauce) and we eat them when they are green as well. When they are green we make tostones or aranitas (spiders) and I swear they taste different.
    Oh, and fried ripe plantains taste great with rice, beans, avocado and any type of meat/chicken on the side. :)

  6. Hahaha......bananas you could fight crime with...gawd I love your blog!

  7. My dad's parents are originally from PR, so he grew up with plantains in savory dishes. When I was little, my grandmother would make tostones once in a while, but good plantains can be hard to come by in New England.

    I've never had them sweet before, but that coconut caramel sounds divine.

  8. Plantains look a lot like bananas - but the taste is more mild. Not quite as banana-y. Bananas and caramel are a match made in heaven. This dessert looks heavenly. Sort of a totally different form of like a Bananas Foster - the famous dessert with bananas flamed in a caramel rum sauce poured over ice cream. A few of these fried plantains over ice cream with the caramel sauce would be un-believable. It would snap your arteries shut - but it would taste amazing.

  9. They are also quite good if you fry them, salt them, and serve with a spicy sauce.

  10. These make me hungry. And what a fun thing to serve to guests! Can you believe I've never bought plantains to make myself? Jeez, what have I been doing with my life?

  11. goshh these remind me of when i lived in malaysia.

    going to have to revisit this.

    not sure i want coconut in my caramel sauce though...perhaps rum?

    blog love :)


  12. this makes me seriously want tostones (twice fried green plantains, yeah?). they're just the best thing ever. though, really, this looks mighty delicious. i want to try ;;

  13. Fried plantains with coconut carmel sauce looks delicious. We use plantains in all forms raw, ripe and extra ripe. I will try this one. One more addition to my plantain's recipes.

  14. Just made these and they are FANTASTIC. The caramel sauce is to die for! Thanks for taking me out of my comfort zone. This was the first time I tried them and my hub even liked the dish. We were supposed to save them for dessert but ate them before the rest of lunch was finished!


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