First, buy some plantains. There is much debate surrounding yellow vs. green plantains. I've found that green plantains are more savory and more difficult to peel, while yellow plantains are more sweet and easier to peel. Regardless of your preference, you need to allow 5-7 days for the plantains to ripen. The Spanish word maduros actually means ripe. And we're not talking about a-few-brown-spots-ripe; these ain't bananas. Your plantains need to be nearly black, like so:
To cook three large plantains, you will need 1/2 cup of canola oil and 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar. You can make more or less plantains; my skillet just happens to hold three.
Next, peel your plantains. Unfortunately, this isn't as easy as peeling a banana, but slicing off the tips is a good trick to get you started. Once peeled, slice the plantain into 3/4-inch thick slices, on the bias.
Pour the brown sugar into a small bowl and give the slices a toss in there. You don't have to coat each slice in brown sugar as you would with flour when frying chicken. Just a little dusting will suffice in order to improve the caramelization process.
Heat your oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once it's good and hot, gently place your slices in the skillet. The key to the cooking process is to be gentle. If your plantains are as ripe as they should be, they'll be very delicate...and you don't want to mess up that pretty shape that you created with your perfect bias slices! I've found that using plastic tongs helps (metal is too harsh and a plastic spatula is too cumbersome).
As your plantains cook, minimize contact between slices. That brown sugar is going to make for a sticky situation. You'll know it's time to flip them over when you can see the crispy caramelized bottom creeping up the sides of each slice.
When you flip them over, they should look just slightly crispy, like this:
La perrita gringa recognized this smell and, the eternal optimist that she is, truly believed that today was the day she would finally get to try platanos. Wrong.
Once both sides are cooked evenly, place on paper to cool/get rid of some of the grease. Make sure it's parchment or wax paper, and not paper towels. Hey, I'm still learning too!
Have you ever had plantains before? What's your favorite plantain dish?