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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Chicken Mofongo--Caribbean Fusion Food

Chicken Mofongo

Chicken Mofongo--Caribbean Fusion Food
by Victoria Challancin

To my readers:  After a rather lengthy hiatus when Life just got in the way, I am happy to be with you again--and ready to share lots of new recipes and ideas.  Thank you for your patience and also for your words of encouragement!

Mofongo.  Doesn't the word itself just gyrate across your tongue, calling up images of some exotic African dance?  When I eat mofongo, just by its name, I know I am delving into the world of fusion, fusion with hints of Africa, the Caribbean, Spain, and even South America.  Though mofongo may conjure up different things to different people (I am imagining my blog friend Norma of the wonderful Platanos, Mangoes and Me, crying out for an authentic Puerto Rican version of this dish, which is considerably different from this one), there is an underlying symphony of ingredients that usually shines through, with plantains as the main star.  In fact, mofongo is perfect fusion food with exotic tropical plantains brought to the Caribbean via Africa, blending with a typical Caribbean sofrito ( a melange of tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, and herbs), heightened with typical Spanish Iberic flavors of olive oil and garlic.  An Afro-Caribbean-Spanish is a feast for the senses and a delight to the palate.

Whether it contains mainly seasoned mashed plantains, or adds shrimp, fish, chicken, or even pork (especially pork cracklings), mofongo is simply one of those recipes you must try.  This version from The New York Times is so simple to make and fairly sings with its medley of ingredients, such as plantains, olives, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and subtle spices.  Serve it over steamed rice with a simple salad and you have an easy-to-prepare week-night meal and a recipe that you will surely return to over and over.

Cooking with Plantains
If you have never cooked with plantains, then you should certainly get to know this versatile ingredient.  This tropical fruit, a starchy type of banana,  also belongs to the genus Musaceae, as do regular bananas.  It is usually eaten cooked.  In fact, unless very, very ripe, a raw plantain can give you a stomach ache!

As a staple food in tropical regions throughout the world, plantains are listed as the tenth most important staple that feeds the world, after corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, cassava, soybeans, sweet potatoes, sorghum, and yams.  The unripe fruit, which is available year round in tropical climates,  can be cooked by steaming, boiling, or frying.  And because it is so readily available and cheap, it is particularly popular in developing countries with inadequate food storage, preservation and transportation.

To peel a plantain:  Because the skin is quite tough and thick, it is best to peel a plantain with a knife, after first cutting off the ends.  Cut the plantain into sections, then slit the peel vertically, and under running water, to avoid staining your hands, simply slip the skin off.  It is then ready to cook. If delaying the cooking, simply place the peeled fruit in salted water to keep it from discoloring

Which stage of ripeness should you choose?

Plantains can be used for cooking at any stage of ripeness:

  • Green--these are firm and starchy, resembling potatoes in flavor
  • Yellow--these are softer, yet still quite starchy, with a sweeter flavor
  • Yellow/black--these have a deep yellow pulp that is much sweeter than the green or yellow stages of ripeness and can even be used in desserts 
  • Very black--while many people shy away from a soft, black banana, this is the stage of ripeness for plantains that is sweetest and can be eaten raw (though I don't recommend it); it will always be somewhat starchy and not as sweet as a "dessert" banana
Fun Facts Mofongo and Plantains:
  • In Puerto Rica, mofongo is a fried plantain-based dish typically made with green plantains mashed together with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings or bacon.  This version, whether filled with vegetables, meat, or seafood, is often served with a meat-, fish-, and/or chicken-based broth
  • In the Dominican Republic, mofongo is often called mangú
  • In Cuba, the dish is usually called fufu spellings vary) or fufu de platano
  • All of these versions have their origins in the African fufu (also called foufou, foutou, or fougou)
  • Although plantains are usually used to make mofongo, other starchy vegetables, such as cassava or bread fruit can be used
  • Plantains originated in India
  • The difference between the two terms "banana" and "plantain" is based on how the fruit is consumed, raw or cooked, as both belong to the same botanical genus
  • Plantains in this banana form should not be confused with the herb plantain, which bears no fruit at all, but is rather a weed whose leaves are used for wound healing and inflammation
  • The reason why plantains are cooked is that they contain much more starch and less sugar than regular dessert bananas
  • Plantains can be roasted whole in their skins
  • When green, they are always eaten cooked or fried, as in the fabulous Colombian dish patacones, which my friend Adriana prepares to perfection (she even puts strips of plantain in her sushi, which, believe it or not, works!)
  • When mature yellow-black plantains are fired, their sugars will caramelize
  • A plantain contains about 65% moisture as compared to a regular banana, which has about 83%
  • An average plantain has about 220 calories and is a good source of dietary fiber and potassium
  • In Central American and the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Honduras, and Jamaica) plantains are typically fried, boiled or added to soup
  • In Kerala, India, plantains are steamed and served as a popular breakfast food
  • In the West African country of Ghana, plantains are boiled and eaten with a cabbege or fish stew
  • In Nigeria, plantains are eaten boiled, fried, or roasted with one roasted version called boli eaten with palm oil or groundnut (peanut)
  • In Guatemala boiled, mashed plantains are often stuffed with sweetened black beeans and then deep fried
  • Plantains have been called the pasta and potatoes of the Caribbean, so versatile are they in their varied uses
  • In parts of the Caribbean plantains are often eaten mashed and served with fried eggs for breakfast
  • In the southern United States, particularly along the Gulf of Mexico, plantains are most often grilled
  • In Mexico fried plantains are often served alongside scrambled eggs mixed with black beans, as in huevos tirados, a favorite breakfast dish served at San Miguel's wonderful Parroquia Restaurant
  • In Peru, plantains are boiled and blended with water and sugar to make the drink called chapo
  • Because plantains can be cooked in much the same manner as potatoes, one of my favorite ways to serve them, especially as an accompaniment to one of the Mexican moles, is simply to boil peeled segments of yellow plantains with garlic (or add roasted garlic), mash them and sprinkle with chopped cilantro

Chicken Mofongo

Recipe:  Chicken Mofongo
Chicken Stew with Sweet Palntains)
(Adapted slightly from a Recipe by Melissa Clark and Eric Asimov for The New York Times)

3 pounds chicken parts, skin on
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chile 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 2/3 cup)
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, plus the juice of 1/2 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 1/2-inch rounds
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup sliced pitted green olives
Chopped cilantro, for serving

In a small bowl mix the cumin, chile powder, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons oregano, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, the orange zest and lime zest.  Coat chicken with 1 tablespoon oil, rub the spice mixture into the chicken, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

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.

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.

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.

Stir in tomatoes with their juices, orange juice, 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 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 (and rice!)

Chicken Mofongo

Parting Shot:

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!


carolena said...

In New Orleans we fry them in butter and put powdered sugar on top for dessert.

Eha said...

What an absolutely fascinating dish which I have never made and seem to have heard of as 'fufu'! Yet there are no 'strange' ingredients! Living in rural Australia I am able to get plantains most of the time but they always seem to be the green ones: don't think we are food-sophisticated enough to dare buy them blackish :) ! Shall definitely travel across your way and try this!! And I just love the roses . . . and am glad to have you back . . . said...

First I thank you for the mention and yes its is not the authentic Puerto Rican Version, but this is packed with flavor and a gorgeous presentation. I say to you that "mofonfo" is one of my favorite dishes. When I go to Puerto Rico I order the simple version with lots of "chicharon" and stewed chicken. I really want to try this recipe porque la boca se me hace agua mirando estas fotos. Bravo!

Joan Nova said...

Look delicious and juicy (sometimes mofongo if not served properly can be dry). I love the addition of orange. I know that added an interesting flavor dimension.

Hotly Spiced said...

Your roses are gorgeous and welcome back. You were missed! I loved all the info on plantains as I'm not familiar with them at all. I love the look of this chicken dish - it looks like a wonderful one-pot meal xx

Nancy said...

Glad to have you back, Victoria. I hope all is well.

Mogongo is new to me but I'm always up for trying something new. Thank you for all the info and tips.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I love reading about dishes that I've never tried before and this is one of them. I think it's a little difficult to get plantains here but if I do, I'll know what I'll make with them first! :D

Gintare @Gourmantine said...

I've never heard of it before, looks like such a colorful dish.

Martine @ Chompchomp said...

Welcome back! I have never heard of Plaintains, I wonder if you can get them in Aus?

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Welcome back, you have been missed. What a colorful and I sure very flavorful dish.