From contributor, Jackson Manning:
As long as I’ve known my wife, she would tell me these stories about a visit she once took to Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire, for her brother’s wedding. It was on the streets of the Ivorian capital she’d first had fried plantains prepared in a particularly unique way: perfectly cubed.
Years later I still haven’t been able to shake her descriptions of popping sweet, crispy-creamy plantain dice into her mouth, and it’s become sort of a back-burner obsession of mine – trying to crack how to make these myself. Recently, with my wife’s mom in town with us for an extended visit, the time just felt as right as it could be to bring a bit of the old country to Westside L.A. It was time to take my own stab at Ivorian fried plantain cubes and see how they held up to the original.
A spotty record
Prior to the latest stab, there had been stabbings before. At frying plantains, I mean. None had come out great. Taking a long, diet-driven absence from the plantain world, I had a good stretch of time to reflect and learn about African food in theory rather than practice. Ultimately I came to the realization there’s just one macro-level thing we all need to do:
Avoid gringo pitfalls
These are mistakes white people are destined to make when they venture into the frying plantain world for a variety of reasons. Let’s go over those here.
1. The blacker the better (eyyyy! ;))
When it comes to plantains, darkness equals sweetness and softness, meaning by fry time, yours should look like ancient victims of Mount Vesuvius, mummified in ash. The ones I picked up at Whole Foods “with considerable dark spots” still had to sit a week before being acceptable. So while you watch your plantain’s benign decay, just remember that it basically has a shelf life comparable to a house mortgage.
2. Do not under-fry.
Hot oil is hot as shit, and if you’re new to it, you may be worried about chip-ification, or about the caloric value of your meal steadily increasing with each passing minute of absorption, and feel tempted to pull your plantains out at the slightest site of caramelization. Don’t do it – this is the process that accentuates the sweetness and moistness. Let the pieces get a healthy brunette before extracting, but make sure not to wait so long as to lose all blonde streaks entirely. We’ll talk about the opposite extreme a bit later.
3. Don’t season.
Because plantains have a starchier, more bland flavor when fresh, a lot of people may think sugar is the secret to the sweet, succulent plantains they love. Others may want to be fancy and add salt, or cinnamon and nutmeg. Look, first God created a lot of foods and spices that compliment and improve each other, and said “Let there be seasoning.” Then He created plantains – perfect in their completeness. Added sugar can result in a soggy, syrupy mess, and the others are just unnecessary.
4. Yellow plantains, not green.
I myself never made this mistake when I started because there is zero Latin Caribbean influence in L.A., so it would be years before I learned about tostones vs. maduros. But if you are fortunate to be somewhere more diverse, let me stop you now from letting a positive thing produce a negative.
Now that that’s out of the way, stop calling me a hero and let’s get frying.
Begin by removing the peels from two very, very ripe plantains.
Proceed with cutting the plantains into slices about half an inch thick, roughly 20-25 pieces.
Next, trim each slice with perpendicular cuts to remove the rounded edges. Once round edges have been removed from the slice, divide the slice into four even squares by making one cut through the horizontal center and one through the vertical center. Repeat for each slice, resulting in around 80-100 one-inch-by-one-inch cubes, plus trimmings.
Now, add cubes to a pot of 48 ounces cooking oil, heated to between 300 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit. O.G. method is to go thermometer-less, as I attempted, in which case you’ll want to drop a “test slice” in after about five minutes of the oil on high heat. The oil should be hot enough to turn the pieces an almond color after about three or four minutes. No shame in using the thermometer, though – look for an “oil” or “candy” thermometer, if you’re new to frying.
Finally, remove pieces from oil and allow to drain on paper-towel lined sheet or bowl. Allow to cool slightly, and enjoy the deliciousness!
So how’d we do?
I loved the final product, which had a toasted, crunchy, slightly acidic sweetness. But I did have the suspicion I’d taken Rule #2 a bit far and overcooked the plantains. I let mine go for about six or seven minute, and I mean, you can see they look like bacon. My wife and mother-in-law, God bless them, confirmed as much, even while throwing them back. Cuz they’re still delicious.
“Good!” my mother-in-law declared. “Exactly like Yamoussoukro. Only…soft.” Her searching for the English words spared me the more blunt diagnosis: “you burned ’em.” My wife concurred – unknowingly plagiarizing my bacon comparison – but also mentioned the ones etched in her memory were actually bigger somehow, and possibly floured.
So in conclusion: sweet, tasty, and not undercooked, so I can still hold my head high. Already looking forward to the next attempt!