Yes, I did it again! Fufu, the most traditional of African meals. This is Congo’s week over here at Boil and Trouble, and like most central African countries, they really love their Fufu. Last week I tried Pounded Yams Fufu when exploring Nigerian cuisine, and today I’m bringing it closer to home making Plantain Fufu.
The similarities between Puerto Rican, or rather Caribbean and African cuisines are striking; especially when it comes to plantain. Here at home we describe a person who is a REAL Puerto Rican with the phrase: “¡Ese tiene la mancha de plátano!” or “That one has the plantain stain!” Yet plantains where only introduced from Africa to the Americas by the time of European colonization in the 16th century. Now, basically all households in the Caribbean with a bit of land have plantain and banana trees growing there.
Then again our way of making fufu is very different from its African predecessor. Its closest descendant would be the only preparation retaining the name. Cuban Fufu de Plátano is also closest with its smooth dough-like texture. Next comes the Dominican Republic’s Mangú, very smooth too but with some bite to it as they leave some pieces of plantain un-mashed. Finally the Puerto Rican Mofongo, where the bare pounding of fried plantain gives the final product a unique crunch that its Boiled Plantain Fufu cousins don’t have.
To tell you the truth, I’m not in love with Fufu. Is not bad, but I find it overly soft and bland. Yes, I should be judging by what it is without comparing it with our versions of it. But a huge difference between Caribbean and African Fufu is flavor. Here we add lots of garlic, oil, salt, pepper and fresh herbs; roll into a ball, make a hole in the middle that is then stuffed with saucy seafood, meat or poultry. African Fufu is the smoothest of all and it’s barely seasoned with a bit of salt because it’s usually complemented with super flavorful soup. So, although I get why it is somewhat bland, I just can’t get over the texture. I keep feeling like I’m eating a raw bread dough, a good tasting dough, but still dough.
I did like plantain Fufu better the Pounded Yams. It’s a bit sweeter and while it takes what seems forever to prepare, that ‘forever’ is a little shorter that “yam forever”. Plantain has considerably more starch than yams, so pounding it into a doughy mass is a bit easier. I admit it, I probably won’t be making plantain fufu again and stick to our harder and probably over seasoned version, but I’m happy I made it. Somehow it makes this experience more real, it makes me feel more real, more part of the world and the people that live in it.
- 4 green (unripe) plantains
- salt to taste
- 1 quart water
- sturdy mortar and pestle
- Peel the plantains and cut it into 2 or 3 inch thick pieces.
- Season the water with salt until it tastes like light sea water. Boil and add the plantain pieces. Cook for 10 - 15 minutes the plantains until a knife can easily slice them.
- Remove the plantain with a slotted spoon and place in the mortar. The bigger the mortar the better, that way you don't need to make the Fufu in batches.
- Pound the plantains, start with the big pieces, working your way away to the smaller pieces. You need to achieve a very smooth, dough-like consistency.
- Once a doughy mass is formed, alternate the pounding with some folding of the dough by hand. You need to trap some air bubbles into the mass to make it smoother and silkier.
- At the same time add tablespoons of water to the Fufu until you get the desired consistency.
- Use wet hands to transfer the Fufu into a slightly wet dish and form the mass into a ball or many small balls.
- Serve with African soup and enjoy!