Plantain Chips with Grilled Corn Esquites, Monterey Jack, and Cotija
Esquites is a wonderful Mexican street-food snack. There are many variations, but the main ingredient in all of them is fresh corn. I like grilling the corn first to add a smoky layer of flavor. (When I don’t want to fire up the grill but still want that great charred flavor, I quickly roast the corn directly over a burner of my stove.) If farm-fresh sweet corn is available, you can just grill the corn right out of the husk. If not, I recommend blanching the corn briefly in boiling water before grilling.
THE PLANTAIN CHIPS:
Peel the plantains. This is a bit trickier than peeling bananas. I start by cutting off both ends, then scoring the skin (trying to pierce the skin but not the fruit itself) lengthwise three or four times around the plantain. Using your fingers to pry the skin off, peel each section. The first is hardest; the rest are fairly easy.
Slice the plantains lengthwise into strips approximately 1⁄4 inch thick. I use a mandolin to do this and find it quite easy. (Make certain not to go too thin, as thin plantain strips will not hold up under the weight of the nacho toppings.)
In a heavy pot heat 3 to 4 inches of canola oil to 350°F. Carefully add the plantain strips to the oil, taking care not to crowd the pan. Fry the plantains until crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the strips to a paper- towel-lined pan to absorb any excess oil. Lightly salt the plantain chips.
THE GRILLED CORN ESQUITES:
In a medium bowl combine the crema, juice and zest of the limes, and the cilantro. Set aside. Lightly grill the corn, allowing parts to char and lightly blister. Cut the grilled corn kernels off the cob, breaking apart any kernels that cling together.
Add the corn kernels to the mayonnaise mixture. Stir well. Fold in the cotija. Add cayenne pepper to taste. If the mixture seems too thick, add a few drops of water and mix again. Esquites can be served hot or cold.
ASSEMBLING THE NACHOS:
Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use an ovenproof platter). Pile the plantain chips in the center of the prepared pan. Sprinkle the Monterey Jack cheese over the plantain chips. Spoon the esquites on top, using more or less of the mixture to your taste. Sprinkle with cotija and bake until the Monterey Jack is melted and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro and lime wedges.
Written by Monica Byrne
Photography by Michael Harlan Turkell