Though they belong to the banana family,
plantains are much starchier and must be cooked. Sliced fried plantain
slices, called tostones, accompany many Latin American and Caribbean
dishes. As plantains ripen, the fruit becomes sweeter and the skin color
changes from green to yellow to half-black and finally to black. The
stage of ripeness indicates how the plantain should be prepared. Any
plantain that isn't squishy soft, moldy, cracked, or dried and hard is
good to eat. Occasionally, you will come across a plantain that does not
soften, no matter how dark it gets. It should be discarded.
Green plantains are hard and starchy and not
sweet at all. Treat them like potatoes and fry, roast, or boil them for
a comparable length of time. Try adding chunks of green plantain to
soups and stews and braising them with meat.
Prepare yellow plantains just like green
ones: they will taste slightly sweeter and have a smoother texture.
Yellow plantains are delicious mashed and combined with other sweet
vegetables such as winter squash. Treat black plantains as you would
ripe bananas. They tend to hold their shape better than common bananas,
so they can be cooked longer, which develops their complexity and allows
the fruit to absorb more flavor.
When storing, keep them at room temperature
until ready to use. After plantains ripen to black, they can be
refrigerated to prolong life. Plantains have thicker, tougher skins than
bananas. If using a yellow or half-black plantain that will be sliced,
cut it crosswise through the skin in 3" to 4" lengths. Score the skin
lengthwise and remove it. To remove the skin from a green plantain, cut
off the ends and make 3 or 4 lengthwise slits in the skin, cutting just
to the fruit. Place it in a bowl of warm water to cover, and let it soak
until the skin is softened, about 10 minutes. Run your thumb under the
slits to ease the skin off the fruit.