Plantain hasn’t exactly captured the imagination of UK consumers. Similar to a banana but more firm and starchy, it resembles a potato in flavour when unripe. Thanks to the relaxed rise of Caribbean cuisine, however, it has started to become more familiar – and now a Puerto Rican speciality called mofongo is popping up on menus across the States.
So what is mofongo? It’s basically deep-friend green plantains that are mashed together – usually with a load of garlic – and laced with, or served alongside, other ingredients like chicharrón (crispy fried pork rinds).
The dish is a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine, which likely evolved from West Africa, and it's having a moment over in the US.
On American menus, mofongo is usually made with pork or topped with stewed shrimp. Sometimes, the plantain is rolled into a ball and stuffed with seafood, or finished with a strong chicken broth that can be served tableside. But operators are getting more inventive.
This regional treat features on menus like at La Casa Del Mofongo, in Washington Heights, New York. The plantain speciality is served with a dizzying array of options including guacamole, herring, salami, fried eggs, beef, chicken, fried pork, goat, cod fish, spaghetti, shrimp, octopus, lamb and lobster, showcasing the versatility of the dish.
Over in LA, street food operator The Ricans Food, who feature at the Smorgasburg market, have converted mofongo into a burger with options like an Angus patty, provolone cheese, caramelised onions, guava jam, spinach and garlic captured between two mofongo buns. They also have a vegan version with sauteed spinach and Portobello mushrooms.
Meanwhile, in Miami it’s almost a signature dish thanks to the area’s strong South American influence. New, upscale restaurant Mofongo offers it as relleno de camarones, a shrimp-stuffed mofongo, or as steak mofongo with garlic cream.
Puerto Rican chef José Andrés, who is often credited with bringing the small plates dining concept to America, has also brought the dish to the forefront with twists on the classic, including a mofongo ramen with plantain mashed with pork belly, served with a boiled egg and salt-and-pepper chicken.
As the main ingredient is plantain, the dish can also be adapted into a vegetarian or vegan offering, with substitutes like seitan. Vegan junk food anyone?
But what does Sparkie make of mofongo?
Mofongo from the descriptions sounds good and in the current climate of consumers seeking authentic foods, it could spread. My apprehension is that plantain as an ingredient has been widely available for a few years now and it hasn’t really become mainstream. The general public still seem to view it with suspicion too.
Ultimately, I think this is one for the right setting, namely in South American restaurants where it’s going to sell fairly well, but outside that setting I doubt it would do so well without sufficient media presence.