Buying and Preparing Plátano: The Basics

Eating on a budget on vacation can be tough. All those Cabarete beach-side restaurants call to you with their delicious cocktails, I know.

Luckily, I have the perfect solution for a Domininan home-cook experiment: plátanos!

Mangu on the beach for breakfast, tostones with your fish. If you’ve spent any time in the Dominican Republic, you’ve likely already come across plátanos. They are a huge part of the national cuisine.

Plátanos grow abundantly all year round, so they’re cheap and never out of season. They’re also packed with nutrients, and are quite low GI, so won’t leave you sugar-crashing hard on the water. All in all, a great addition to any meal.

‘But, I don’t know the first thing about cooking plantain!’

Don’t worry, it’s easy and fun. Give it a go!

Here are some simple tips and tricks to get your plátano dreams started.

Which colour plátano do I need?

Before you chop or peel anything, you need to know what to buy. Just like bananas, plátanos start off green, then turn yellow, and finally brown as they ripen. The starch gets converted into sugar over time.

Unlike bananas, you never eat a plátano raw. It’s bitter and hard to digest, just don’t do it. Cook it, it’ll taste way better.

The colour plantain you are looking for depends on what you want to make.

  • Plátano Verde or Macho – unripe, green plantains are starchy and hard. Kind of like a potato. They’re great for making tostones and putting in your traditional Latin American soups. Basically, use them as you would a potato.
  • Plátano Pinton – This is the inbetweeny stage of a ripening plátano. It’s not green, but not yet fully ripe and sweet. Firm, but not hard. Keep your eyes peeled for that speckled yellow look. Perfect for mashing and roasting, and anything where you want a semi-sweet flavour.
  • Plátano Maduro – Perfectly ripe plátanos are those brown/black ones at the store that look like they need to be thrown in the bin. Grab them! These are amazing fried, baked, stuffed, or tossed in a hash or omelette. Yum!
  • Plátano Negro – Save these slightly-collapsed black beauties for your sweetest desserts. Like ‘temptation plantain’ (plátanos tentacion), a decadent treat cooked with sugar, rum and cinnamon.

You can either buy the right colour plátano for your recipe, or ripen them at home. Put them in a brown paper bag to speed the ripening process up.

You’ll find plátanos for sale all over the place in Cabarete, as well as across the Caribbean. Look out for fruit and veg stalls, but also for pick-up trucks driving past with mountains of produce!

How do I peel a plátano?

Once you have your plátano, you need to peel it open. Riper plátanos shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.

Sadly, you can’t just peel a green plantain as you would a banana. It takes a little more work.

Chop the ends off the plantain. Score the length of the plantain skin with a knife, along the ridges, just enough to cut through the skin. Don’t cut too far in as to slice the fruit. Score it four times, spaced about an inch or two apart, then try pulling the strip out with your fingers.

Try not to use your nails, as you might hurt yourself. A paring knife can serve you well here, to help you remove the more stubborn skin.

You can also boil or steam it for 8-15 minutes to loosen the peel. It should come right off, and you might have started to cook the plantain a bit.

Inside the plátano, there is a milky sap that you want to wash off. Be careful as it can be persistent and stain your clothes and nails. Peeling the plátano under a running tap can be a good idea.

Plátano sap is believed to have very healing medicinal properties, so if you’re into that, you can collect it.

Once you’ve got your naked plátano, it will oxidise and blacken quite quickly. Don’t be alarmed.

Depending on what you’re cooking, chop the plantain into short rounds, diagonal slices, or long strips.

There you have it!

We’ve learned the basics of plátano preparation, and we’re ready to take on a real-life recipe. Good work!

Stay tuned for plátano ideas from us, or check out Aunt Clara’s amazing traditional dishes at Dominican Cooking.