From the food editor: Unpeel the delicious possibilities of the plantain

Skillet Chicken Thighs with White Beans. (MICHELLE STARK   |   Times)
Skillet Chicken Thighs with White Beans. (MICHELLE STARK | Times)
Published Sep. 27, 2018

The first time I had tostones was sophomore year of high school. My friend's mom, who is from Puerto Rico, served a plate of the warm, just-fried discs as an afternoon snack.

Tostones are plantains that have been cooked, smashed, then cooked again in lots of oil and salt. Her mom served them with a mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise, which I found out was a standard condiment for the dish among my Puerto Rican schoolmates.

That was my introduction to plantains, a starchy cousin of the banana popular in Hispanic cuisines, more often prepared the way you might prepare a potato.

You've probably seen plantains in the grocery store, even if you didn't know what you were looking at. They look like bananas, only a bit larger and greener and sometimes covered in (perfectly fine) black splotches.

I've been buying and cooking plantains at home for years, constantly chasing the high of those tostones I ate as a teen — that crispy outer layer, the soft starchy inside, the subtly sweet flavor enhanced by a generous sprinkling of salt.

Most plantains prepared in restaurants are maduros, typically riper, sweeter plantains that are fried but not smashed and then fried a second time. (Bodega in St. Petersburg and Seminole Heights has some of my favorite maduros around, the oily side item a sweet companion for rice and black beans and whatever meat you opt for.)

Help me, fellow tostones fans. What are some of your favorite local spots?

See you soon

I'm preparing to head to upstate New York for a week of cooking school at the Culinary Institute of America.

The school, famed for alumni such as Anthony Bourdain and other celebrity chefs, offer classes that anyone can enroll in for five days at a time. I'm doing the Basic Training Boot Camp, where we'll sit through food lectures and apply cooking techniques in the kitchen a couple hours each day.

I'm excited to brush up on my skills, which have been honed entirely in the comfort of my own kitchen. (And I'm excited to experience October temperatures that do not begin with the number "8" or "9.") I am definitely in Simple Cooking mode at home, which means I want to use as few dishes as possible, cook for less than 30 minutes, and not buy a ton of new ingredients to get meals on the table.

Enter this recipe below. It checks all of those boxes: Everything cooks in the same skillet (albeit not at the exact same time), and the total cooking time comes in at just under a half hour. If you're not sure about cooking with sliced lemon, leave it out and, just before serving, squeeze fresh lemon juice onto each serving instead.

Contact Michelle Stark at or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.


Skillet Chicken Thighs with White Beans

1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed

1 shallot or small onion, peeled and cut into thin wedges

Salt and pepper

2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling

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1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans

1 bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves torn into large pieces

Flaky sea salt

Olive oil, for drizzling

Toss lemon slices and shallots together in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper; set aside. (This will lightly pickle the shallot and soften the lemon while you cook the chicken.)

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add chicken, skin-side down. Using kitchen tongs or a spatula, press the chicken evenly into the skillet so it makes good contact with the hot surface. Cook, resisting the urge to check too frequently, until the skin is deeply golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken pieces. At this stage, most of the fat should be rendered and the skin should be crispy. Flip and continue to cook until pieces are cooked through, another 7 to 10 minutes.

Using kitchen tongs, transfer chicken to a plate to rest, leaving all the fat behind. Add lemon and shallot to the chicken fat, standing back if you need because it will sizzle. Cook, swirling the skillet, until the lemon has started to caramelize and brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the beans to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the beans have started to brown a bit and soak up all of that caramelized lemon chicken fat, 3 to 4 minutes. Working in batches, add kale and toss to wilt, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go.

Return the chicken to the skillet, along with any juices that have collected on the plate, and cook for a minute or two, just so everything gets to know each other in there.

Divide the chicken, beans and kale between plates, making sure to top each serving with a few lemon slices. Sprinkle with flaky salt and a final few turns of pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.

Serves 4.

Source: Adapted from the New York Times