Simply food

PLANTAIN WRAPS UP THE COMPETITION

The always welcoming island of Saint-Martin, in the French West Indies, is one of my favourite winter destinations, where the recent Culinary Festival invited chefs around the island to show off their stuff and create some new and unique offerings featuring plantain.

Chef Gaëlle Mussington shares her recipe with contestants

For the second annual Festival de la gastronomie, island cooks rose to the occasion and came up with different ways to present this staple dish. Throughout the Caribbean, and indeed much of Africa, Asia and South America, the cooking banana known as plantain is ubiquitous. It can be prepared in as many ways as the countries and cultures which serve this delicious food. It looks like a dessert banana, but the taste is starchy and much less sweet, so it’s best cooked, whether still green or ripe and yellow. Because the plant produces fruit year-round, it is a major food staple in countries where food preservation, refrigeration and transportation can be difficult.

Home cooks in the Caribbean know that frying plantain caramelizes the fruit and increases the sweetness. It can also be turned in to chips and patties, flour for cakes and boiled and mashed to resemble mashed potatoes. Plantains are amazing barbecued. Often served as a side dish, each country has its own favourite way to eat plantain, so the cooks in Saint-Martin had a wide variety of options when coming up with their own delicious versions.

The competition was judged by top culinary names under the overall patronage of twin Michelin star Chef Nicolas Sale, formerly of the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Judging of the 67 participating restaurants took place over 10 days in November 2022.

Salmon filets with sides of baked plantain and veggies

The judges showed off their favourite plantain recipes as well and I particularly like the offering of judge Gaëlle Mussington, a local private chef and caterer, which featured baked plantain au gratin alongside her presentation of Pavé de saumon frais et gratiné de bananes jaunes accompagnés de petits légumes sautés. The salmon is delicious, of course, and a similar recipe can be found in my cookbook, Simplifood, but the side of plantain intrigued me.

Here in Niagara-on-the-Lake we have a large influx of farm workers from the Caribbean, who come to pick grapes and soft fruits in the vineyards and orchards which surround us. This means that in the local grocery stores it’s easy to find fruits and veggies such as plantains. I pick up some nicely ripened ones to cook.

People assume that au gratin means a cheesy top, but it just means a browned crust of something like breadcrumbs, so cheese is just an option. But I happen to think it works very well, with the mélange of different flavours making for a very Caribbean experience. Gaëlle has made her dish in individual portions, but I choose to make a full casserole dish.

BAKED PLANTAIN AU GRATIN

Shopping list

  • 500 grams, about 4 or 5 semi-ripe plantains, sliced into thick rounds
  • 2 TBSP cooking oil
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP white flour
  • 1 cup thick cream (35 per cent whipping cream)
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar or Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation and cooking

  1. Peel the ripe plantains and cut the fruit into thick rounds. Fry in a little oil until they begin to brown or caramelize, turning once.
  2. Béchamel sauce: make a roux with melted butter and flour, then add warmed cream and stir until thickened. TIP: Use a whisk to ensure there are no lumps. Add salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg to taste.
  3. Mix the grated cheese with the breadcrumbs.
  4. In a casserole dish, layer in the partially cooked plantains, pour on the sauce and sprinkle the cheese and breadcrumb mix on top.
  5. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 30 minutes, or until the topping is browned and bubbly.

Presentation

  • Serve as a side with grilled or BBQed fish or chicken, or as a starter.
Featured image: Chef Nicolas Sale with some of the Culinary Festival competitors

Simplifood: Amazing food, simply prepared, Nigel’s fourth cookbook, is now available as an eBook well priced at 9.99 in any currency.

Please LIKE this blog, if you have enjoyed the article, or add a COMMENT — clickable at the top of each story. Click on the FOLLOW button at the side of the page if you would like to receive email notifications of new articles.

This is Nigel’s 362nd blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories, or check under CATEGORIES.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.