Picking and Frying Ripe Plantains

How to choose and serve this international staple

Fried plantains

Aurora Michelle / Flickr / Creative Commons

Throughout the Caribbean and many Spanish-speaking countries, fried ripe plantains are served with meals mainly as a side dish or as a snack. For example, in the South American country of Guyana, fried plantains are traditionally served with the national dish, cook-up rice: rice, beans, and meat cooked with coconut milk.

Cooking bananas, or plantains, come in two forms: unripe or green plantains, and ripe plantains. They are a staple food for nations throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, Central, and South America. Fried plantains are made to go along with any dish, and in many cases, they are made and eaten daily.

Plantain Facts

As the plantain ripens, it becomes sweeter and its color changes from green to yellow to black, just like bananas. Green plantains are firm and starchy and resemble potatoes in flavor. Yellow plantains are softer and starchy yet sweet. Extremely ripe plantains have softer, deep yellow pulp that is much sweeter.

Plantains of all varieties can be prepared in every way imaginable: steamed, boiled, grilled, baked, or fried. There are even two ways to fry plantains, as chunky, bite-sized pieces or thinly sliced, like chips.

How to Choose

The process of frying ripe plantains is often pretty straightforward. However, before attempting to make this dish, it is important to understand what is happening during the cooking process in order to execute the dish properly.

Plantains go through various stages of ripeness. The plantain's ripeness is evidenced by the changing color of its skin. For excellent fried plantains, you will want to choose a plantain with skin that is dull yellow with patches of black or completely black—this is when a plantain is at peak ripeness. At this point, the plantain has exchanged all of its starch for natural sugars; frying it at this stage coaxes all the sugar to the surface, which brown easily. Browning sugars yields tasty caramelization notes. You will note that people opt to cut the plantains diagonally (on a bias) since it provides a larger cooking surface for caramelization.

Apart from choosing a plantain at its proper stage of ripeness, there are three other important things to take into consideration when frying plantains.

Tips for Cooking

In order to get your sweet fried plantain recipe right, you need to have the perfect pan, use the best possible oil, and maintain the correct cooking temperature:

  • Frying pan: It is probably best to use a nonstick skillet as this will aid in the easy release of the cooked plantain from the pan. Sugar burns quickly, so your plantain might otherwise stick to the pan. 
  • Cooking oil: Your choice of oil is another important consideration. You might want to use a neutral-tasting oil such as canola or vegetable oil. The amount of oil used for frying should be just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Too much oil will cause the plantains to soak up the oil, resulting in soggy plantains. After frying each batch, drizzle additional oil on the resting plantains if needed (or top with butter).
  • Heat level: Perhaps the most important factor when cooking plantains is the heat level. Use medium heat to fry plantains. You may have to lower the heat depending on the size of your stove burner and pan. If your heat level is too high, the plantains will burn or brown too quickly. If they brown too quickly, the inside will not cook through.