Chef Nigel Spence: How to Make Plantain Pancakes

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - May 13, 2018

By Nigel Spence
CJ Contributor

As the temperatures here in New York City seem finally to be heading in the upward direction, I feel compelled to render a huge welcome to a distinctly rare sight for the early 2018 era…”Grass! Driveway!”  “Y’all never looked so good…”

I must also register my new-found respect for Punxsutawney Phil – the Pennsylvania celebrity on whose every action, forecasters stay riveted. I am referring to their coveted groundhog who on February 2nd awoke from hibernation.  As is the custom, if he pokes his head out and sees his shadow, back in he will go, landing us, allegedly, with another 6 weeks of Winter.  If no shadow is seen, Phil will chill, thereby signifying an early Spring instead.  I guess by the fact that we are only now celebrating Spring in May tells pretty much how Phil fared.

However, this year, my bets were actually on Phil’s Canadian counterpart – Shubenacadie Sam from Nova Scotia.  He had a more likable prognosis – early Spring – as he could not seem to find his shadow.   I guess old Sam must have been “blinded” by his fame (pun intended – Ha!).  I heard he tried after that to make a run for it and instead got stopped in his tracks by a reporter named Brett Ruskin.  Turns out Sam may not have seen his shadow but he surely did see Ruskin’s fingers…his way of telling Ruskin “Bite me!” I’m sure – Hahaha. Sam made headlines in Canada that day, not for his forecast, but Ruskin’s forefinger. You can’t make this stuff up!

On a more serious note, across the United States this month, many families and friends will be paying respect to the Fallen who served in the Armed Forces, observed as Memorial Day – May 28th.  Thousands of parades will also be taking place in their honor. As a member of the U.S Coast Guard auxiliary, I too will be participating in these events and paying respect to those who have served.

When all the official commitments are fulfilled, I like to pull out the barbecue grill and get in practice for Summer ahead, because the three day weekend is considered the unofficial beginning of the summer season.  It is also when lots of varieties of fruits and veggies become available in abundance. No excuse to not mix it up a little – getting away from boring, repetitious winter recipes and experiment with flavors and textures reflecting the tropical like weather on the way.
Have you ever tried grilling ripe mangoes? Or sliced pears? Don’t knock it until you have tasted it.  Red and yellow sweet peppers, asparagus and even sweet onions make a great combo. Simply adding pieces alternatively onto skewers makes a very colorful and attractive display when plated beside grilled burgers, baked fish filets or even grilled steak. Using your oven is an option for those who are not fans of the barbecue grill.  Not the same thrill, but the desired effect can still be achieved.

Every summer at the restaurant, I host a big backyard party which usually centers around the grill. Every year I challenge myself to come up with something new to add to my repertoire as grill jockey for the evening. This year I decided to add a flat top cast iron griddle to my already extensive list of totally unnecessary but fun gadgets. This decision came about when I decided that this year I wanted to place more emphasis on the side dishes offered, and when I came up with a winner, it required the griddle to execute on the grill.

With the many different trending diets out there, I wanted to include a side dish that worked within the guidelines of most of them. Last year I found that of all the items left back on the plates (yes, I do look out for stuff like that), the bread seemed to rank highest on the list. My assumption was that the simple carbs, gluten and wheat were the culprits for the guests showing the bread no love. It was a freshly baked hardough bread but I guess times (and diets) are a changing!

It is said that if you keep doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result, you are a little crazy or just plain old stupid. Though I am cognizant of the fact that I already possess a good dose of both, I still set out to do things a little differently this year. I wanted some kind of bread or complex carbohydrate that would excite the palate but still be very healthy.
The overripe blackened skin plantains sitting in the basket near my stove caught my eye as a possible candidate. Naturally sweet, with enough starch to give itself structure, I began on a journey that led me to a simple plantain pancake. Turns out these plantains needed nothing more than a whiz in the blender and a couple of supporting ingredients to make it a home run.

It was mighty hard to believe, but with the simple addition of eggs, it cooked up like a plantain fritter, then with the addition of just a small amount of plantain or spelt or quinoa flour, it morphed into the most awesome pancakes you have ever tasted, with the natural sugars from the overripe plantain making it unnecessary to add additional sweeteners. Just some melted butter on top after cooking was all it needed to seal the deal of deliciousness!

The rate at which they disappeared during my pre-Memorial Day Saturday evening grill off told me immediately that I had a crowd pleaser on my hands.

Tweaking the recipe as I went along, I finally came up with the winning recipe that I will be featuring at the holiday backyard party. Get a small cast iron griddle from your favorite box store and pop it on top of the grill and you too can experience the joy of cooking pancakes outdoors.

Otherwise, they cook up just as well in a non-stick pan on the stove top inside.

1. • 4 large ripe Plantain, peeled
2. • 2 Eggs
3. Cinnamon Ground-pinch
4. Nutmeg-ground-pinch
5. • 1 tsp Vanilla
6. • 1/3 Cup Plantain flour
7. • 1/8 tsp Salt
8. • Coconut oil for cooking

1. Place the plantain, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and salt in your blender. Blend until you have a smooth batter that is slightly thicker than pancake batter.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until light and fluffy and gently fold it into the plantain mixture. This step is to make the pancakes more light and airy, but if you would like them more dense simply add the eggs with the plantain in the blender from step 1.
3. Fold in the plantain flour.
4. Melt the coconut oil in a pan over medium heat. Once the oil has melted and the pan is hot, pour the batter onto the pan to desired size. Don’t make them too big as they are a little trickier to handle than regular pancakes.
5. Cook until the bottom edges of the pancake are golden brown, about 2 minutes, then flip the pancakes and cook the other side for 1-2 minutes or until the pancakes are cooked through.
6. Serve as a standalone, or as an addition to grilled meats, or with maple syrup and/or melted butter with strawberries and shaved coconut.

Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS  when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s  The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.

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