I am smitten with Calvin Trillin. His food writing is delightful (although he’d probably hate it being thought of as such) and his wordplay in general has given me pleasure over the years. In his essay “Damp in the Afternoon” he is intrigued by the phrase “taureau piscine”, to him it is “a name of great euphony“.
My euphonious offering this week is “mofongo”. This an easy, filling, tasty, versatile dish, and the name can ring out as an expletive, be muttered under one’s breath in moments of confusion, it can even be used as a familiar greeting, I think. Why not? I love this word.
I have eaten mofongo in Cuban restaurants, and honestly, I like mine better. It is so easy to make, and so inexpensive, that it almost seems a shame to eat it “out”. If you have some sort of food processor it is the easiest of things to make, if you don’t, you can still do this simply with a single or double mezzaluna in a bowl, or just with a big enough knife on a board, for that matter.
Really, if you can get your hands on a semi-ripe plantain you’re well on your way. For this recipe we want fruit that has yellow to barely light brown skinned ripeness.Plantains do not peel quite like bananas. The easy way to do it is this: cut off each end, then use a sharp paring knife and slice the skin from top to bottom cutting just into the fruit, then gently insert your thumb between the fruit and the peel and work the skin off. At least that works for me.
The only other piece of advice I can offer (and this may seem obvious) is try to cut the pieces to the same thickness as closely as possible (without worrying too much about it I mean). That way all the slices will cook through evenly.
Here’s another one of those chemistry things that I don’t understand. Every mofongo recipe that I read said to soak the slices in salt water for 15 minutes or so before draining and cooking. Any idea why? I have none… but I do what I’m told and this works.
Traditional mofongo as I understand it includes pork cracklings. I love that idea, but right now my grocer is practically throwing shrimp at us, and who am I to refuse? I think either version would be dandy (or maybe adding both for a sort of “surf and turf” mofongo), but this shrimp version seems more “summery” if you will, and inclusive for those pescetarians among us as well.
The process is very simple. Here’s all I do:
serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side
2 semi-ripe plantains
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
Peel the plantain and cut into pieces about 1/2 inch think. Soak in well-salted water to cover for 20 minutes. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
In a medium skillet heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom by about 1/4 inch. Gently set the plantain slices into the oil. Reduce heat so that the oil is just barely bubbling, the idea here is to almost poach the plantain, not to hard-fry it. Cook for 10 minutes. The plantain should be just browning on the bottom.After ten minutes, turn all the plantain slices over and add the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes and add the shrimp. Cook for a final 5 minutes or until the shrimp is just cooked through.
Put the entire contents of the pan, oil and all, into a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
Pulse 3 or 4 times. Remove to a bowl or platter and enjoy!
Food mythology states that when James Beard was quizzed about the “correct” way to eat caviar, he replied, “With a big spoon”. I think that’s the “right” way to eat mofongo as well. It can be made more “soupy” with stock or broth, or made into patties and fried, which I think would be swell for leftovers except there never seem to be any.
You could certainly top it with chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, but I think it is delicious just like this. Yes, yes, a nice green salad on the side of course… but this is not fancy food. I’d say beer rather than wine, and it is possibly best eaten barefoot as well. Mmmm… be sure to let us know if you try it, please?