Why This Recipe Works
- Overripe bananas have had their starches largely converted to simpler sugars, which means they're sweeter and become softer when mashed to a rough puree.
- By starting with a baseline amount of liquid in the batter then adding more as needed, the recipe can be made to work with variations in the bananas used. (Extremely ripe ones will be more liquidy when mashed and require less additional liquid, while very ripe bananas may require a little more.)
Banana fritters are an easy, quick, and delicious way to make use of very ripe bananas. The recipe calls for just a few ingredients that everyone should readily have on hand—bananas, flour, sugar, milk (or water), vanilla, and cinnamon—so these fritters are easy to prepare, cook, and eat! They're a great way to use up overripe bananas before they become compost, and are an appetizing snack for kids and adults alike.
In Jamaica, and in the wider Caribbean, fritters are made out of every kind of ingredient: Salt fish, conch, cocoa, pumpkin, and corn are among some of the common savory fritters enjoyed across many islands. Savory fritters are typically enjoyed as a snack, or as breakfast with one’s morning “tea”—which in Jamaican lingo refers to any hot beverage consumed in the morning, even if it’s coffee or hot cocoa. Banana fritters, by comparison, are sweet, often dusted with granulated or powdered sugar after frying. With roots in West Africa, the banana fritter takes various forms across most islands of the Caribbean. They exemplify the ingenuity and talent of the cooks of our island, who often made use of the limited ingredients they had access to in their kitchens to create delectable and comforting dishes that satisfy both the palate and the soul.
While the recipe below offers mass and volume to help new cooks who are unfamiliar with the preparation, the truth is that this is a recipe meant to be whipped together quickly with whatever you have. If you only have two overripe bananas, you make just a few fritters; if you have a dozen about to go bad, you make a batch large enough to feed a crowd. Similarly, quantities are almost always eyeballed—there's no real "should" here in terms of exact ratios of bananas to flour to liquid, nor is there an "ideal" batter consistency. It depends on the cook, and what they have on hand. (Our bananas in Jamaica, for example, tend to be smaller than the ones most often sold in the United States, and they tend to be less starchy as well, which all has an effect on batter ratios.)
As a general rule of thumb, you want to add roughly the same amount of flour by volume as you have mashed banana, and then enough liquid (whether milk or water) to thin it into a batter. We often aim for a banana fritter batter with a consistency that's lumpy and thicker than pancake batter, something that can be dolloped from a spoon into the hot oil in the skillet and spread around to make a thick but flat fritter shape.
It's also worth noting that the texture of fritters is different from pancakes. For starters, the fritters have no baking soda or baking powder to leaven them. That, combined with a large quantity of mashed bananas, is going to result in a fritter that is more dense than a pancake, with an enjoyably chewy texture. Light and fluffy these are not.
Banana fritters remind us of our maternal grandmother, Mavis (who we called MaMa), as she always served them as a side dish with her main meal of the day, which was lunch. They were then, and still are now, our favorite part of a meal. During our years at university, we often sent messages home long before we landed at Norman Manley International airport, telling our grandmother to make sure she had lunch ready for us, and to make sure she had plenty of banana fritters.
Like savory fritters, banana fritters are often consumed as breakfast or as a snack. They are also wonderful to serve for dessert, on their own, or topped with a scoop of coconut or vanilla ice cream and a dusting of cinnamon sugar. They are also commonly served, as our grandmother Mavis served them, as a side dish, in much the same way we would serve fried ripe plantains.
Imagine Sunday lunch with the family all gathered around a table laden with roast beef with gravy, rice and peas, a bright green salad, callaloo gratin, avocado, and a platter of piping hot banana fritters. This, to us, is heaven—the sweet fritters a perfect balance and accompaniment to the savory and spicy dishes on the table.
Jamaican Banana Fritters
Use overripe fruit to make Jamaican banana fritters that are tender yet slightly chewy—and even simpler than basic pancakes.
- 4 overripe bananas (about 1 1/2 pounds; 680g total)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (7ml) vanilla extract
- Large pinch freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (6 3/4 ounces; 192g)
- 3/4 cup (45ml) milk or water, plus more as needed
- 1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (20g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a medium bowl, mash bananas, vanilla extract, and nutmeg with a fork until fully pureed; you should have about 1 1/2 cups mashed banana.
Stir in flour followed by the milk (or water) until a thick and slightly lumpy batter forms (exactly how thick varies from cook to cook, but a general goal is a batter that's thicker than pancake batter, spreadable, but not free-flowing); add additional liquid 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed, to achieve the desired texture.
Heat oil in a medium sauté or frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pan, carefully add roughly 2-tablespoon-sized spoonfuls of banana batter to oil, making sure to release them close to oil to prevent splashing, and fry until golden on first side, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and fry until golden on second side side, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer to paper towels to drain and repeat with remaining batter.
In a small bowl, stir together sugar and cinnamon. Transfer fritters to a serving dish and sprinkle cinnamon-sugar all over hot fritters. Serve hot or at room temperature as a side dish with a meal or as a quick and tasty snack.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The banana fritters are best eaten immediately.