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Grilling Plantains

It’s July which means my Basset hound Maisy and I went out to the deck to do some grilling for my annual “what weird thing is he grilling now” article. Each year I try to take a look around the Co-op and find ways to make some of our more interesting options the centerpiece of cool grilled meal. This year my wife and I were joking around about what to feature; I said pickles and she suggested bananas. Well that seemed like an interesting challenge. Ten minutes later we had a menu for a tasty and easy Caribbean meal with ingredients found throughout the Co-op (and a few doors down at Star Liquor.)

Okay, so we’re not exactly starting with bananas, but plantains are in the banana family. Think of them as a Caribbean potato—that looks like a banana. They are pretty high in calories with around 125 per cup, but they are an excellent source of potassium, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Plantains are starchy and actually, in my opinion, taste like a potato when green. For our purposes, we want a really ripe, almost black, plantain. At this point it has more moisture, and the starches have begun to break down to sugars. As it ripens, the flavor becomes sweeter, but it’s still firm enough for cooking. If you can’t find a black plantain, just put one in a paper bag for a while and it’ll ripen just fine. Even ripe, a plantain is still not quite as sweet as a banana. And, while most fruits become even sweeter when grilled (due to the breakdown of starches), I still think adding some sugar to the plantain is a good idea.

The recipe I tried out is grilled plantains with a rum glaze. It has six ingredients:

  • 6 really ripe plantains
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. of unsalted butter
  • A pinch of salt
  • And 2 cups of good, dark rum (it doesn’t really need to be that good—but you are going to have leftovers, so you might as well make it good)

Turn on or light your grill. Cut your butter into small pieces. Peel your plantains and slice them on the bias (diagonal slices) about 1/2 inch thick. Once the grill is good and hot, combine the brown sugar, salt, and rum in a saucepan and cook it until the sugar melts and it starts to thicken. Stir in the butter and remove from the grill.

Brush your plantains on both sides with the glaze and grill a few minutes until they’re golden and caramelized. Brush with some extra glaze during the last few minutes of grilling and before serving.

So we’ve grilled bananas, what about the pickles? Well, the best thing to serve with sweet is sour. And the best thing to serve with sour is a good Cuban pork sandwich. For this you’ll need:

  • 1 loaf of good Italian bread (or Cuban if you want to be particular)
  • Some yellow mustard
  • 1/2 pound of sliced ham (the Deli’s Willow Creek is fabulous!)
  • 1/2 pound of roasted pork or prepared pork loin, sliced thin
  • 1/2 pound of Deppler’s Baby Swiss, sliced deli thin
  • And, you guessed it, 8 pickle slices

Spread mustard on both sides of the bread, cover that with the cheese, and add the rest between the cheese slices. Wrap your sandwich in foil, and stick it on the grill.

Traditionally, these sandwiches are pressed nice and flat while grilling—for this purpose a nice heavy brick works great, but you can also use a heavy skillet (which is also easier to remove from the grill). Squish your sandwich down and grill it until it’s hot.

Serve with your plantains and a nice mojito (the national drink of Cuba I’ve heard) and you’ve got a quick meal that’s easy enough to entertain guests on your deck, or to share with a very hungry hound that is still miffed we didn’t grill brats.