Caribbean Night

For today’s menu we’re throwing down Caribbean style with a couple super-easy but supremely delicious dishes that will have you longing for reggae music and a rum cooler.  We’re making a jerk-style chicken breast with fried plantains, both of which take no time at all but are supremely delicious and maybe even healthy — depending on who you ask.

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I’m going to start by talking about the side dish.  Lolly loves fried plantains and occasionally pesters me to make them for her.  As luck would have it, this weekend I was at my favorite store in the entire universe, Jungle Jim’s, which is as close as you will ever come to having every conceivable obscure foodie item under one roof  — even things you would never imagine would qualify as food, but by golly, someone buys that crazy weird stuff and, presumably, actually eats it — go figure.  I could quite literally lose myself in that store for days and never miss the outside world.  Their internet link is below, in case you ever have the magnificent good fortune to be able to shop there.

Anyway, as I was blissfully wandering its seemingly endless aisles of culinary arcania, I stumbled upon that rarest of creatures — properly ripened plantains.

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Now, to the uninitiated these may look like they’re well on their way to becoming compost.  But do not let appearances deceive you, dear readers.  These are exactly what you want in good plantains.  Do not fall prey to the insidious trap of seeking out bright yellow plantains that look like perfectly ripe bananas.  Oh no.  That way lies only frustration and disappointment.  Plantains are much more fibrous than bananas, and ripen much slower, so by the time the outside is looking like this, the inside is just right.  If you try to use yellow plantains, good luck trying to peel them, let alone cook them.  I speak from hard experience.

In any event, plantains are a delicious fruit that is extremely easy to prepare.  Simply peel, slice into the desired size and shape, and gently pan fry them in a little whole butter over medium-low heat until they develop a deep caramelized color on the bottom, with just a touch of crispness.  Do not turn them when cooking — the tender middle and top of the slices will cook through just fine and form a nice contrast to that bit of crunch on the bottom.  I usually will season my plantain slices with just a light sprinkle of kosher salt, and if you like them extra sweet a little brown sugar will make you smile.

Moving on to our chicken dish, you’re probably going to be slightly surprised at how we get where we’re going.  Check out this ingredient list, which will make 4 servings:

  • 1 packet dry Italian salad dressing mix
  • 4 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne (depending how spicy you like it)
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 lb. boneless chicken breast

Italian dressing mix and soy sauce in the same dish!?!  Blasphemy!  Trust me, friends, you’re going to love it.  Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl, using a fork to break up any lumps of brown sugar.  Add the oil and soy sauce, and stir thoroughly to form a loose paste.  Use a mallet to pound the chicken breasts to about 1/2 inch thickness, then add them to the bowl and marinade for at about 30 minutes.

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When you’re getting close to the end of the marinade time, start your plantains cooking.  You have a couple main options to cook the chicken.  Usually I grill it, even if that means in a stove-top grill pan, but tonight I decided to pan sear them in a cast iron skillet.  If you choose the latter, heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and cook the first side of the chicken over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Then turn the chicken, pop the whole skillet into a 400° oven for another 5-10 minutes, and you’re done.

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The chicken will be perfectly cooked through, tender and juicy.  And by the way, did I mention that amazing sauce?  Plate it up and munch it down with a big happy grin on your face.  Normally I would make this menu with my famous Cuban style black beans, but that’s another recipe for another day — today we just went with simple black beans and rice.  This whole affair took less than an hour to pull together, even counting the marinade time, and we enjoyed every bite.  I know you will too.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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Jungle Jim’s International Market

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