Happiness is Homemade…
Hello Amigos, the following dish is part of a four course dinner I did for my final test in cooking school. As all these dishes can easily be prepared and served individually for different occasions, I am posting them individually to make the reading of it easy to understand and the cooking process pleasurable. Please find them in this order and Enjoy!
Dish I = Tostone/Shrimp Canapé
Dish II = Coconut lobster Ceviche
Dish III = Crab meat and scallop prosciutto wrapped saffron Paella
Dish IV= Coconut pineapple rice pudding
Before I introduce you to my canapé, I want to open a discussion about one of the Latin ingredients used to produce our horsd’oeuvres today. This ingredient is plantain. I use green plantains often as canapés or in main dishes.
Very often I receive lots of questions from people that do not know what a green or yellow plantain is. The reaction I get from people that are unfamiliar with this product is the main reason why I wanted to discuss it here as a way to bring awareness about a product that is widely used in Latin America and many other parts of the world. In Africa, for example plantain and its sister the banana are said to provide 25% of their required carbohydrate to a population of 70 million people. Its origin seems to be credited to the Asia continent; it was first cultivated in south India to be exact and has been around in Asia since 500 BC. Since its arrival to the new world (in the Caribbean and Latin America in 1500 AD) our plantain has become the tenth staple food in the world.
I grew up eating plantain in all its forms. This product is grown all year around in tropical climates, making it accessible to a great number of people. It is also a food that is cheap, which makes it very attractive to societies with scarce resources. It is very easy to store and for those without a refrigerator (important for those people living in Andean regions, and very rural areas); they can be left out at room temperature to ripen and then can be used in their ripe form in many dishes. This product is very resourceful as even the plantain leaves are used worldwide to prepare dishes such as tamales in Nicaragua, Peru, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. In addition it is used to wrap hallacas en Venezuela and pasteles en Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In South India, Plantain leaves are also used as a plate to serve traditional Southern India meal. My family uses the leave as a cooking lift to cover rice dishes such as “Moro de guandules or frijoles/rice with beans. They add a subtle and wonderful flavor to any dish. The taste and aroma that result from wrapping, covering or cooking any food in a plantain leaves is unique, sometimes hard to describe, but yet so deliciously memorable.
Nutritionally, plantain is a good carbohydrate source. It is low in fat with an average of 220 calories per plantain. However, as rice, pasta or other main staple this product has a high starch content. Last but not least it is a good source of potassium, fiber and vitamin c.
How do we cook it?
It can be treated the same way we do with potatoes. It has somewhat a plain or neutral flavor. You will pretty much determine the flavor by the way you prepare it. In its green state plantain can be cooked in many ways, steamed, boiled, grilled, baked, fried, and mashed. They are very often added to soup, and use for lots of other food preparations. The same cooking technique is used for the ripe plantain. The texture and the taste of a ripe plantain are very different than when they are green. They are very sweet and wonderful to prepare desserts and savory dishes as well. The same concept is applied to a green banana which is also treated in the same way we treat the plantains.
I hope this information can be of good used for many of you and I encourage you to pick up a green or yellow plantain next time you go to the market.
Now let’s go to my kitchen and start cooking, after all that is the reason we are here. I am using a green plantain as one of the main ingredients to produce tostones or fried green plantain.
The tostone is topped with a garlic piquillo shrimp, in which diced piquillo pepper, garlic, scallions/shallots, and cilantro are used for flavoring and garnishment. To finish the dish I dress it with a sauce americaine.
Note: We are going to start with the sauce first because everything (mise en place) needs to be ready before we start frying the green plantains or tostones. The reason for this is that green fried plantain has to be eaten right away otherwise the texture will change and the tostones will become hard. Another thing to note is that we are also adding the shrimp’s shells to the stock americaine to acquire more flavor. In addition, I want to mention that I used the meat from the lobster for my Coconut Ceviche also featured here under the appetizers category.
Yield: 8 Servings
For the sauce a l’Americaine or sauce America:
4 pound of lobster shells, splits
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of butter
3 ½ ounces of carrots, cut in mirepoix* (size 1-2 inch)
3 ½ ounces of onions, cut in mirepoix
2 ounces of brandy
½ cup of sherry dry wine
1 ½ tablespoons of tomato paste
4 cloves of garlic
2 sprig of tarragon
2 sprig of thyme
2 bay leaves
Cream or any other liaison of preference
For the Shrimp topping:
1 pound of fresh Shrimps –shelf off
1 tablespoon of oil
1 shallot or scallion, only the white part
3 garlic cloves
2 piquillo peppers diced
1 tablespoon of diced chives
1 red bell pepper
Salt and black pepper
For the tostones:
Vegetable oil for frying
3 to 4 plantains
For the garnishing:
1 Tablespoon of fresh cilantro or tarragon minced
For the Sauce Americaine:
How to kill the lobsters?
You can either cut up the live lobsters, or kill them in boiling water as I do. Wash the Lobsters shells. Boil water in a stockpot and place the lobster eyes down into the pot. Leave them in the boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes then remove and cut. (We need the fresh lobster meat for the ceviche). Cut the lobster and remove the largest pieces of fresh lobster’s meat, not to overcook it. In this case I will be using the flesh for the ceviche recipe which will be our appetizer for this dinner
Heat a stockpot, add the oil, the butter, the lobster shells, Shrimps shells and cooked over high heat until the lobster/shrimps shells turned orange. Add the mirepoix to the pot and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the brandy and flambé* then add the sherry wine and reduced by half.
Add the tomato paste, the fresh tarragon, the thyme, the garlic, bay leave and water to cover the shells. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 40 minutes, skimming frequently. Strain the stock, place back on the heat and reduce until it is fully flavored. Add cream of any other liaison* and cook gently for 10 minutes.
For the Camaron/Shrimp:
Clean and deveined the shrimps. Diced the shrimps in brunoise* size. In a fry pan in medium heat add the oil, the onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the piquillo, the chives, red pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the shrimps and cook until they start to get orange, for about 2 minutes. Seasoned it with salt and pepper and reserve.
For the Green plantain/Tostones:
Cut the green plantain at each end and peel away the skin by running a vertical line through the skin.
Cut the green plantain into 1/2-inch thick slices.
Heat about 1/4-inch vegetable oil in a large skillet and fry the plantains in batches, until browned, but still soft or starched. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Press the tostones in a tostones press or on a cutting board with the bottom of a small heavy pot until they are about 1/4-inch thick Re-fry the tostones in the hot oil until golden brown.
They could be served as is with a sprinkling of salt or as in this case with, my camaron al piquillo ajillo topping.
The assembly and presentation:
Place the sauce in the plate. Top the tostones with the Shrimp’s mixture, and add a drop or two of the sauce amerecaine on top of the shrimp. Garnish with the fresh cilantro or tarragon herbs and serve. Bon appetit! Enjoy
Mirepoix*= a traditional French culinary combination of onions, carrots and celery aromatics cut in a consistent unshaped sized or chunks (1-2 inches) which are then used to flavor a final product. It’s normally strained and discarded at the end of the cooking process.
Flambé *= means flamed/flaming in French. And it refers to a cooking technique where hard liquor such as brandy, cognac or rum is added to a hot pan, creating a flame on the food being cooked which then dissipate, but not without leaving behind a wonderful sweet and subtle flavor.
Liaison or binding*= refers to the process of thickening a liquid in order to give it body and consistency. Such bindings can be cream, butter, flour, rice, potatoes etc.
Brunoise*= is a culinary knife cut that indicates how to cut precisely and uniform small cubes of vegetables in 1-2 mm squared cube.
This post is also available in: Spanish