The Jibarito is Chicago’s spin on Puerto Rican food. Who doesn’t love a little fusion? Furthermore, who doesn’t love a sandwich? Although it is not a typical dish you can find on a Puerto Rican menu, it harnesses all the flavors so I never have to skip out on my beloved fried plantains.
What is fusion food?
While we’re on the topic, let’s dissect fusion a bit. Fusion cuisine at its root is when you marry together iconic flavors from two cultures’ cuisines. The best fusion chefs will make sure the flavors are together in the dish, not acting as separate entities. Think appetizer sampler versus a bisque, get the picture?
Before the United States developed an affinity for famous sandwiches, the Midwest was home to the second largest Puerto Rican population on the mainland. Immigrations started at the end of the 19th century. Many went to New York City and a large portion went to Chicago. While the communities met difficult times adjusting to a new life, their impacts have rippled through the centuries. Schools shifted to bilingual education models, the Puerto Rican People’s Parade started, and foods from the now faraway island gained attention.
Jibaritos in Chicago
But I digress, the jibarito (pronounced hee-bar-EE-to) is two planks of fried plantain stuffed with steak, white cheese, grilled onions, fresh lettuce, and tomato. Often, there is a drizzle of garlic oil, too. The story goes that the owner of a Borinquen restaurant, Juan Figueroa, was reading a Puerto Rican newspaper and saw an article about a sandwich made from plantains. Inspired, he got to serving them in his own restaurant. In 1996 his place was a neighborhood eatery, nothing fancy. Fast forward to the present and these sandwiches sell by the thousands and are now a Chicago staple. Did you know the name translates to “little hillbilly”? How funny.
What is Plantain?
Plantains vs bananas, what is the difference? Well, plantains are in the banana family but are quite different. If you don’t look closely, you might mistake it for a banana. However, these are usually green and have a much thicker skin. Unlike bananas, these are starchy and cannot be eaten raw. You’ll need to bake, boil, fry, or stew them to get them cooked and ready to eat. They likely originated in South East Asia but are found in an array of tropical cuisines.
Tips for Making Your Jibarito
Ideally, you’ll want to get green plantains. Once they start to turn yellow, they’re slightly sweet and softer. You’ll have a better texture for your “bread.”
Now there are a few options for slicing your plantains. Some people like to make a full-sized sandwich where others are more inclined towards a slider-sized jibarito. If you cut the plantain lengthwise into two pieces, you’ll end up with one, large sandwich. If you cut the plantain into 3-inch coins, you’ll end up with more of a snacking-sized jibarito. The choice is yours. Keep in mind, the frying time might need to be adjusted depending on what size you decide to run with.
Peeling plantains can be a bit tricky. I recommend that you cut off the ends and then cut the green skin (carefully) length-wise on either side. You should be able to peel it one side at a time. Be careful though, if you try to do this too quickly the plantain can break.
My recipe calls for shaved beef. If you’re a vegetarian, by all means substitute. I recommend grilled red peppers, pulled jackfruit, or even tofu.
In Chicago, garlic oil is the standard drizzle for jibaritos. But I like to use homemade aioli or fresh garlic in oil processed in my mini chopper. You still get the garlicky taste but there is no infusing oil for days.
Step by step photos:
- Gather your ingredients and have them chopped, sliced, measured and ready to go.
- Pour 4 cups of water in a Dutch oven then add the adobo, sazón, garlic, pepper and sofrito. Bring to a boil on high then lower to medium-low heat.
- Add the shaved beef to the Dutch oven.
- Stir in the onions and simmer until they are completely soft. This will take 10-15 minutes.
- While the beef and onions are simmering place 5 garlic cloves and 1 Tbsp olive oil in a mini-chopper.
- Pulse the mixture until the garlic has been reduced to very small pieces. Scrape down the sides of the chopper and pulse more if needed.
- Cut the ends off of the plantains.
- Use a small thin bladed knife and make a score lengthwise down the plantain. Just penetrate the skin only with the knife.
- Lift the skin away with your thumb and peel off all the skin. If some bits remain you can scrap them gently with the side of a knife.
- Slice the plantains in half lengthwise.
- Check the Dutch oven that the onions are very soft and remove from the heat. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.
- Heat the oil in a large pan to 350°F and fry the sliced plantains until golden on the edges. This will take about 5 minutes. Remove them and drain on a paper towel for a couple minutes.
- Place one plantain slice on a plastic cutting board. If you only have wooden cutting boards line them with plastic wrap to prevent sticking.
- Place another cutting board on top and press down VERY hard to compress the slice.
- The slice will be about ⅛ inch thick once flattened out.
- Fry the flattened slices for about 2 minutes in the oil until crispy around the edges. Construct your sandwich with mayo, lettuce, tomato, cheese, beef and onions. Drizzle the garlic sauce on top.
Frequently asked questions:
- Can I freeze the beef and onions for later? Yes, you must completely cool the beef and onions for jibarito before freezing. Store in airtight containers for up to one month. For single servings, freeze portions in a muffin tin and pop out the frozen rounds and store in freezer bags.
- Can I freeze the plantains? Yes, I would typically freeze them after the first frying then squeeze them into planks and freeze those in an airtight container. You can then thaw them and fry the planks for the second frying at a later time.
- How do I reheat the beef and onions? Reheat in the microwave for 2-3 minutes and stop to stir every 30-45 seconds until hot. Once reheated do not cool and store again in the refrigerator, consume it right away. So only reheat the amount you will consume.
Do you want to explore more Puerto Rican dishes?
This dish would be typically served with a size of arroz con gandules which are super easy to make. You can also checkout one of my all-time favorite Puerto Rican dishes: Pernil which is a slow roasted pork shoulder. Tostones are one of the most popular ways to serve green plantain. If you like fried green plantain than you have to try shrimp mofongo with its garlicy kick and spicy sauce!
Jibaritos are a Puerto Rican style sandwich made from two planks of fried green plantains instead of bread.
Seasoned beef and onions:
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 Tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 4 plantains green
- oil for frying
- 2 Tbsp mayonaise
- 3 tomatoes sliced thin
- 1 cup lettuce chopped
- 8 slices American cheese
Prepare the beef:
Pour 4 cups of water in a Dutch oven then add the adobo, sazón, garlic, pepper and sofrito. Bring to a boil on high then lower to medium-low heat.
Add the shaved beef and the onion to the Dutch oven. Stir to combine.
Simmer until the onions are completely soft. This will take about 10-15 minutes.
Once the onions are soft, remove from the heat. Cover and keep warm until you are ready to serve.
Prepare the garlic sauce:
Place 5 cloves of garlic in a mini-chopper. Pour in 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil and pulse to combine. Continue to chop until the garlic us very fine.
Prepare the plantains:
Slice the ends off of each plantain.
Score just through the skin with a thin bladed knife lengthwise. Peel off the skin. Scrape any bit of skin with the side of the knife if needed.
Slice the plantains lengthwise and fry in oil heated to 350°F for 5 minutes.
Remove the plantains from the oil and drain on a paper towel for a couple minutes.
Press each plantain between two plastic cutting boards so they are about ⅛ inch thick.
Fry the flattened plantains again for about 2 minutes until crispy around the edges.
Construct the jibarito:
Spread some mayonnaise on the bottom plantain plank then add the lettuce and tomato.
Place the 2 slices of cheese on top and then add the beef with onions.
Add the top plantain plank, drizzle with the garlic sauce and enjoy!