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)

ingredients
1 boneless pork butt (~ 3 lbs)

rub
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 ūüôā

instructions
Rub
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)

ingredients
canola oil
2 ripe plantains
kosher salt

instructions
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.)


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Ain’t No Thang but a Chicken Wing

Most of America is looking forward to this Sunday for one reason or another. Cooking sites, beer brands, restaurants, t-shirt companies, and even The Who are set to capitalize on the event, which is undoubtedly the most watched TV-broadcast in America.

And while I do enjoy a good NFL match (especially since our ACC favorite has given us little reason to follow NCAA games), I clearly have an ulterior motive when it comes to the Super Bowl. That motive, friends, is food. Did you have to ask?

February 7, 2010 is probably the only day of this year in which I will eat two heaping handfuls of chicken wings without a care in the world, as Jennifer will be whipping up some of her now-famous black pepper chicken wings and I’ll be making the ones you see here. It’s also the time of the year when Mark & Heather bring a couple of Tombstone pizzas¬†(if his own new TV doesn’t sell us out), when Brook & Katherine bring that awesome buffalo chicken dip (yes, Katherine, I loooooove that stuff!), and when Hubs really works it in the kitchen by making either a huge vat of chili or this year, a ginormous Boston Butt, slow roasted and pulled into little shoestrings, sopped up with bbq sauce and washed down with beer. Oh, the choices.

In short, Super Bowl = Food Extravaganza.

Well, the exception to that would be Super Bowl XLI, when Devin Hester returned the kickoff punt for the Bears. The Bears didn’t quite win that game, but we sure did. The place¬†where we watched the game that year¬†decided to go balls to the wall and award a lump sum of money IF Hester returned the kick (since he was notorious for returning them, it was definitely possible, and this bar was clearly stupid) to anyone who signed up. Our winnings? 800 buckaroos, baby!¬† In that instance, Super Bowl = cha-ching!!

Bets & football sqaures aside, what about you? What are you doing for the big game?

need some easy recipes for Sunday? Check these out – they are quick, easy, cheap, and super versatile. You could even leave the fancy stuff behind and just lather them in hot sauce, if you please. Just make sure you prepare enough; you don’t want to miss the game (or the food) by making a grocery run.

Ginger-Honey Chicken Wings
From Food & Wine, February 2010; serves 2-4

printable version

ingredients
2 T all-purpose flour
1 t salt
1 t g Sichuan peppercorn
1/4 t five-spice powder
2 lbs chicken wingettes & drumettes
2 1/2 T red hot sauce (Franks)
2 T unsalted butter, melted
1/2 T soy sauce
2 T honey
2 T fresh ginger, minced
2 T scallions, chopped finely

instructions
Preheat oven to 500 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with oil or cooking spray.

In a bowl, mix flour, salt, peppercorn, and five-spice. Add chicken to bowl and toss to coat. Spread chicken on the baking sheet in a single layer and spray with oil. Roast chicken for 45 minutes, turning once or twice, until browned and crispy.

In a bowl, toss chicken with remaining ingredients; serve.

Mango-Curry Chicken Wings
From Food & Wine, February 2010; serves 2-4

printable version

ingredients
2 T all-purpose flour
1 t salt
2 T hot Madras curry powder
2 lbs chicken wingettes & drumettes
2 1/2 T red hot sauce (Franks)
2 T unsalted butter, melted
2 T Major Grey mango chutney
chopped pistachios, for garnish

instructions
Preheat oven to 500 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with oil or cooking spray.

In a bowl, mix flour, salt, and curry powder. Add chicken to bowl and toss to coat. Spread chicken on the baking sheet in a single layer and spray with oil. Roast chicken for 45 minutes, turning once or twice, until browned and crispy.

In a bowl, toss chicken with remaining ingredients except pistachio; top plated wings with pistachio and serve.

Not diggin’ wings? try some other party grub:
Ham & Cheddar Pretzel Bites
Edamame Ravioli n’ Sesame Soy Dipping Sauce
Strawberry Pizza