A bubbling pot of chicken stew with potatoes is a hearty, comforting thing. But substitute sweet plantains for the tubers, and suddenly your dinner leaps from familiar and predictable to unexpected and a whole lot more interesting – at least for someone who doesn’t eat plantains very regularly.
I tried this recently when I was desperate to cook something imbued with sunshine and balmy breezes. A pile of near-black plantains at the supermarket reminded me of a trip to Puerto Rico back when I was pregnant and starving all the time. I craved the starchy softness of plantains and ate them at every meal: fried with eggs for breakfast; in pastelón, a layered lasagnalike dish, for lunch; in mofongo, a mound of mashed plantains with garlic, pork and cracklings, for dinner.
Back in New York, I went through a brief but fervid plantain-frying phase that taught me a few things about this member of the banana family.
The first is that while plantains are edible at every stage of ripeness from green to yellow to black, the darker they are, the sweeter, riper and softer they are. And when it comes to fried plantains, I like sweet, ripe and soft. Sometimes that meant buying the yellow ones and keeping them on the counter for a few days until they darkened. I tried to let them go as long as possible, just shy of rotten. They were worth the wait.
Another useful tidbit: While it seems intuitive to peel open a plantain like a banana, pulling down on the stem, there’s an easier way. Trim the top and bottom off, then use the tip of your knife to slit down the length of the peel (try not to cut into the flesh). On a ripe plantain, the skin will peel right off. On a green one, more tugging is required. Or try microwaving a green plantain for a minute before peeling. This helps loosen the skin.
Before settling on my recent experiment of chicken and plantain stew, I briefly contemplated attempting mofongo. But it’s a complicated endeavor that uses green plantains; the chicken stew is far easier and uses sweet plantains. Ideally, for this recipe, you want plantains that are mottled black and yellow; they should be ripe but not mushy so they slice nicely.
In keeping with the warm-climate theme, I added lime juice to my stew, along with fragrant cumin, chili and oregano. Instead of the usual wine, I used tomato and orange juice as the liquid. And brined green olives lent just the right salty note.
All in all, my chicken and plantain stew was as far from my usual stewed chicken with potatoes as Puerto Rico is from New York. And in the middle of January, I know where I’d rather be.
Chicken stew with sweet plantains
Time: 1z hours, plus at least 2 hours’ marinating
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
3 pounds chicken parts, skin on
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
4 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
3 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest plus the juice of 2 oranges (about ∏ cup)
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest plus the juice of ½ lime, more as needed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
2 large sweet, very ripe plantains (they should be black and yellow), peeled and sliced into ½-inch rounds
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 cup sliced pitted green olives
Chopped cilantro, for serving
1. Rub chicken with cumin, chili powder, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons oregano, z teaspoon black pepper, the orange zest and lime zest. Coat with 1 tablespoon oil. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
2. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces, skin side down. Cook, in batches if necessary, until golden brown all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a bowl.
3. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Add plantains in a single layer, working in batches if necessary, and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side. (Add more oil to pan between batches if needed.) Transfer plantains to a bowl.
4. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Stir in onion, bell pepper, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook until vegetables are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oregano and cook 1 minute.
5. Stir in tomatoes with their juices, orange juice, 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Return chicken and plantains to pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Keep at a steady simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Stir in olives and lime juice. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt or lime juice to taste. Serve topped with cilantro.