Battle Plantains: One for the Road

For those of you who know me (or even those who don’t and read in my little space), these little Iron Chef get-togethers have been one of my favorite ways to spend time with friends over the past couple of years. For one, I get to cook, and that’s an easy way to make me happy.

But for two, I get to see some of my favorite people, all in one room. We get a few short hours to chat, to drink decent wine, and to talk about food. If being with them wasn’t great enough as is, adding those elements only exponentially makes it better.

I started Iron Chef as an excuse to hang out with friends and do all of those things I mentioned above. I didn’t realize it would last for two years, and I didn’t realize we’d pick up so many competitors, er, friends, along the way. This little group of people, they mean a lot to me, every last one of them who’ve ever participated, and it is hard to say goodbye to an event I’ve looked forward to so much.

And while I don’t generally believe that all good things must come to an end, this time I get it. While I hope to one day start up an IC-SF, my Iron Chef Chicago days have come to an end. And while my IC Chicago days have come to an end, I do hope someone decides to continue it, and I’ll continue to keep my fingers crossed that it lives on, and that good food, good wine, and good friends continue to hang out together.

For my last competition, it was Battle Plantains. Now, I can’t say I really cook with plantains all that much. Heck, I think the only time I’ve ever cooked plantains is at a dinner event I helped my friend Caroline with (another Chicago event I will surely miss..), and we made some killer tostones. And so, rather than focusing on the plantains, I focused on finding something I’ve been wanting to make that could go with them.

I made pulled pork. Again.

Yes, you’ve seen these shenanigans around these parts once or twice. What can I say – I’m Southern at heart, and pulled pork is in my genes, I suppose. Plus, I had an idea for a twist and found a good recipe for a mango BBQ variation that was sure to impress. The only problem? No plantains involved. I decided that was a minor detail and made it anyway.

The Top Three:

  1. Heather’s Plantain & Mango Pulled Pork ‘Sandwiches’
  2. Michael & Kenna’s Plantain Cuban Sandwiches
  3. Jennifer’s Plantain Bread with Hazelnut Cream Cheese

As it turns out, it was a minor detail. Either the competition was rigged in favor of it being my final battle, or the plantain chips sandwiching the pork were enough to bring it all together. Either way, I’m heading to the West with a win in my back pocket, hoping in two months I’ll get to pick one last ingredient for my Midwestern friends.

Mango Pulled Pork
Adapted from Food Network’s Aarti Sequeira; serves 4-6 in sandwiches or a party when used as bite-sized pieces (plantain chips recipe below)

printable version (pork and chips)
printable version (pork only)

1 boneless pork butt (~ 3 lbs)

2 T brown sugar
1 T smoked paprika
2 t kosher salt

bbq sauce
1/4 c canola oil
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t cinnamon
1 T g ginger
1/2 large onion, finely minced
1 serrano pepper, finely minced
kosher salt
1.5 c mango puree (bought as is, or made using canned mangoes pureed in a blender)
1/3 c fresh lime juice
3 T apple cider vinegar
2 T molasses
3 T Worcestershire sauce

for serving
plantain chips (see below) & cilantro OR
hamburger buns & pickles
also lovely as a tostada 🙂

combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl, then rub it onto the pork until well coated. Set aside while you make BBQ sauce. You could do this a day ahead and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

BBQ sauce
In a large saucepan (preferably a Dutch oven) warm the oil over low heat until hot. Add the cumin, cinnamon, and ginger; let simmer, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the onions and serrano and a little salt, to taste. Saute until they soften but don’t let them get any color. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients. Simmer about 5 minutes. Taste and season.

Add the pork shoulder to the saucepan, coating it with the sauce. Cover, and gently simmer until the pork falls apart easily, stirring and turning often, about 3 hours.

Remove the pork from the saucepan and shred it using 2 forks. Return it to the sauce and stir to coat with the sauce. Serve however you plan to. (I sandwiched a large tablespoon of pulled pork between two elongated plantain chips, sprinkling a little cilantro on top of the pork.)

Plantain Chips

printable version (chips only)

canola oil
2 ripe plantains
kosher salt

in a medium saute pan, fill with oil up to ~1 inch. let oil get hot (but not smokey). meanwhile, peel plantains and cut into three chunks, lengthwise. using a sharp knife (or a mandoline if you’re fancy; I wasn’t), cut into 1/4″ strips.

once oil is hot, fry off strips about 5 at a time, flipping over after 1-2 minutes on each side. drain on paper towels and serve.

(if you’re making these for the pulled pork, they can sit out for a bit to cool before being sandwiched in between the pork and a little cilantro.)

Asian Things

Are you into Asian things? Okay, I’ll be more be more specific, because otherwise my friend, Todd, may pop up here with a comment about about how he’s always loved Asian girls, and that’s awkward. I’m moreso speaking about Asian cuisine, and it’s one of my very favorites.

Although when I really think about it, I can’t honestly come up with an ethnic cuisine that I don’t like. But I haven’t yet tried Ethiopian cuisine, or really, any other food that might be considered African. I should – any recommendations? I’m willing to bet I’d like that too, though. Man, loving food sure is hard, eh?!

Anyway, I find it appropriate to discuss Asian cuisine for two reasons:

  1. I had an Asian food conversation with my student yesterday, which essentially involved my annoyance with how generously the term ‘Asian’ is used in cooking. Like I told her, throwing snap peas in a dish doesn’t an Asian meal make. Agree?
  2. Last time I checked, most of us are off on Monday and probably pondering the merits of using that ginormous grill on the front porch, or maybe stealing a grill from the neighbors’ porch, or maybe just buying one. either way, using a grill is something you should certainly consider arranging for Monday.
  3. My vacation photos still aren’t ready to submit here for your voyeuristic viewing pleasure, and fortunately this recipe is in my backlog of ‘things I would like to share with you’.

Hrrmmm…. I now realize that this is in fact, three reasons. Consider yourself fairly warned that I am in no mood to make sense of that, or to care. A lady almost barfed on me during my bus ride this morning, and I’m still a little bothered by the fact that her puke was less than exactly one inch from my ultra-cute rain boot that my right foot was in. And that she had three bags to select from in order to contain her puking, but instead the bus floor was her choice.

Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to add that poison oak is a real bitch. Seriously – when does it go away? Are these blisters going to scar if I keep scratching them? Do people think that I have some contagious disease, and should I cover this crap up? This stuff is affecting my productivity at work, well, at life, really. It needs to stop.

Okay, and now I realize that I’ve talked about two things that are not appetizing. I’m sorry. Hopefully the pictures of yummy bbq chicken will keep your focus, even if it didn’t keep mine.

What you see here is in fact, a dish of barbecued chicken. But this isn’t my dad’s bbq chicken recipe (which I now have a hankerin’ for…), it’s an Asian-flavored barbecue sauce, and now you see the tie-in. Finally, right? I’m usually a little concerned when I see this much oyster sauce in a recipe, but you should know that those concerns were invalidated unvalidated super-duper-lame not true.

This is the type of recipe you wanna whip up for your friends. In other words, make this for your labor day partay. You could use any type of chicken (if I remember correctly, the original was a different part), or pork. The bbq sauce is sweet, but tangy, and though the original recipe didn’t call for the sesame seeds, I tend to enjoy the crunch of them. As for the roasted garlic, you can certainly tell that’s in there – and the smell of it withering itself away in the oven is what dreams are made of. Well, that and an arm free of blisters ;).

Twice-Glazed Asian Barbecued Chicken
Adapted from Food & Wine, July 2010 (from Blackbird in Chicago); serves 4

printable version

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 1/2 t black peppercorns
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 T canola oil
1/2 c oyster sauce
3 T low sodium soy sauce
1/3 c water
1/4 c white wine vinegar
8 chicken drumsticks
cilantro or parsley for garnish
white sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish

special stuff: spice grinder & a grill

Preheat the oven to 350. Wrap the garlic cloves in foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until soft. Squeeze the garlic from the skins into a small bowl.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, cook the peppercorns over moderately high heat, shaking the skillet occasionally, until they are smoking and fragrant, 2 minutes. Transfer the peppercorns to a spice grinder and let cool completely, then grind to a coarse powder.

In the same skillet, cook the chopped onion in the canola oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted garlic, ground black pepper and oyster sauce and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce and cook until reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add the water and white wine vinegar and simmer over moderate heat until the barbecue sauce is very thick, about 5 minutes. Transfer the barbecue sauce to a blender and puree until smooth.

Light a grill. Oil the grates and grill the chicken drumsticks over moderately high heat until the skin is crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook over moderate heat until the chicken is almost white throughout, about 5 minutes. Generously brush the barbecue sauce onto the skin; turn and grill until glazed, about 30 seconds. Generously brush the other side with sauce, turn and grill the chicken until glazed. Repeat the glazing on both sides. Transfer the chicken to a work surface to rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with herb and sesame seeds.