The plantain is a very popular food in Panama. It looks like a banana, but if you take a bite of a raw plantain you will know this is something different. Plantains are a member of the banana family and look very similar. They are usually bigger and more angular in appearance. They are also starchy and low in sugar, which is why they taste only vaguely like the sweet bananas you are used to. Most people do not eat plantains raw. They are usually baked or fried and used much like potatoes in Panamanian dishes. Like bananas, plantains are a good source of potassium and fiber, with significantly more vitamin A and vitamin C than bananas and about 220 calories each. Their attractiveness in Panama is that they fruit all year round, making them a reliable all-season staple food.
Plantains can be eaten raw, but they tend to taste starchy and bland (like a raw potato), so they are usually cooked before being eaten. They are cooked or fried when they are still green. At this stage, the pulp is hard and the peel often so stiff, it has to be cut with a knife to be removed. Mature plantains can be peeled like typical bananas, the pulp is softer than in immature, green fruit and some of the starch has been converted to sugar so they taste a bit more, but not really, like a banana. When mature, yellow plantains that are fried tend to caramelize – turning a golden brown color. They can also be baked or grilled over charcoal – both peeled or still in the peel.
A common way of cooking and serving plantains in Panama is known as Patacones. They are twice-fried plantain patties that are served with most local dishes as a side, in place of rice or potatoes. Some people enjoy eating them like French fries, with a little catchup.
If you find plantains in your local supermarket, you may want to try this simple recipe in preparation for your trip to Panama. Delicious served with a whole fried fish!
2-4 green plantains
1-2 cups of cooking oil for frying
Start by removing the plantain peels. This is done by slicing off the ends and making 3 or 4 knife cuts along the skin lengthwise, then take your finger and pry the peel off. It is not as easy to remove as a banana peel!
Slice plantain into about 1-inch disks. Once the oil is bubbling hot, add sliced plantain. Cook and stir, turning once, until slightly golden, about 5-7 minutes. Remove with tongs to paper towels and drain.
On a clean surface, gently smash plantain slices with the bottom of a glass until they are about a quarter inch thick. Season with salt and return to hot oil to finish cooking, another 3-4 minutes. Fry until completely golden and edges are brown. Remove to fresh paper towels, pat dry and serve hot. Season with more salt if necessary. Enjoy!!!