Minatamis na saging (or saba/plantain bananas simmered in brown sugar syrup) is often served simply chilled or with some crushed ice and perhaps some milk or cream on the side. When it’s done right, it is simplicity at its best. Soft sweetened bananas that spell serious comfort food. At its worst, it is hard/tough and less than palatable. I have often been asked, and often wondered myself, what seems to cause these extremes in texture for such a seemingly simple dish with so few ingredients. The final push to experiment came when we recently ordered a dozen halo-halo’s from Razon’s and what arrived were plastic cups filled with the toughest, chewiest bananas I have ever had…
First the bananas. Definitely the saba variety for me, and ripe, but not overripe. That means most of the skins are yellow, but not soft and mushy. I suppose you could argue that if you used overripe bananas your chances of having a softer final product was likely. True, I tried, but only true it seems soon after they are cooked. So I returned to my ideal “just ripe” type of banana. First, I peeled several bananas, let them simmer in about 1/2-3/4 inch of water and flipped the bananas over to half-cook them before adding the sugar.
Next, I added lots of SUPERB dark muscovado sugar, for sweetness AND flavor. Most folks don’t realize this, but regular light and darker brown sugars in groceries are simply white sugar colored with molasses. Muscovado is different. It seems to me to be less sweet, but more importantly, more fragrant and flavorful. It possesses a darker, richer color as well. I also added a touch of vanilla essence. Let this simmer until the bananas are just done and let it cool. Some serve this at room temperature, others like to chill it first. These were delicious, but not necessarily as soft as I would have liked.
So I decided to take bananas from the same bunch, hence the exact same degree of ripeness, and boiled them first, with skins on for say 12 minutes or so. After that, I peeled the bananas and cooked them in a mixture of muscovado, water and a little vanilla essence and simmered this until the sauce was a nice consistency and the bananas soft.
This turned out beautifully, and noticeably more tender than the first version. I was pleased as punch, thought I had discovered something useful. Then I left samples from each batch in covered containers out on the kitchen counter overnight. Samples from each batch were also placed in the fridge overnight. The next day, the ones on the counter, both samples, were noticeably tougher — in particular, they had an almost dry chewy skin surface. The ones out of the fridge were downright hard and chewy, really unpleasant. It seems the sugar in the syrup draws whatever moisture remains in the banana as it sits in the sauce, whether out of the fridge or in the fridge. So if you are getting chewy bananas served to you, it’s a very good chance they were made a while ago… So, what are MM’s tips for nice tender minatamis na saging? Start with just ripe to quite ripe bananas, depending on your personal preference. Boil the bananas in their skins first before peeling and adding to a syrup of water and muscovado. Don’t make the syrup too thick, in other words, leave it with a higher water content. Make the bananas an hour or two before you wish to serve them. Don’t store them in the fridge. If you want them chilled, serve them with some crushed ice added just before serving. All of this, of course, assumes you don’t like your bananas cold, hard and chewy. :)