My wife has a coffee mug that we save for really rough mornings. It reads “I Feel Like I’ve Been Mauled By Jesus.” It’s statements like that one that make Futurama special.
Call me a heretic, but I enjoy Futurama more than Matt Groening’s other creations, The Simpsons and Life in Hell. Each is excellent in its own way, but for geek appeal, you can’t surpass a show that guest stars Al Gore, Nichelle Nichols, Gary Gygax and Stephen Hawking trying to preserve the time-space continuum. Plus, it has Bender Bending Rodriguez, the most famous vitriolic alcoholic human-hating Mexican robot of all time. Futurama is a great combination slapstick silliness and satire, of highbrow and “Lowbrau.”
Food in Futurama is usually a joke: “Extreme Walrus Juice,” for example (100% fresh squeezed walrus!). Bender himself becomes a chef in one episode, winning an Iron Chef-like competition by feeding the judges Soyent Green enhanced with LSD.
When I thought of making Futurama food, two choices stuck out in my mind: Popplers and Slurm. Slurm is a highly addictive soda made of the secretions of a giant alien slug queen. In re-creating Slurm, I had to marry the two concepts of Mountain Dew (which Slurm is pretty obviously based on) and royal Slurm Queen slug-jelly.
My first attempt was a mix of soda and lime Jell-O, which my daughter loved but I thought tasted like bubbly Pine-Sol. The second method was much better. Pineapple soda is really only recognizable as pineapple when it’s yellow. When green, it might as well be from another planet. Though I don’t usually like to use food coloring (I think it’s cheating), I felt it was necessary here.
One 2-liter bottle of pineapple-flavored soda (room temperature)
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
A few drops of blue food coloring
Pour a cup of soda into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Take it off the heat and stir in the gelatin until totally dissolved. Add in one cup of room temperature soda and mix it well. Allow it to cool about ten minutes. Put the bottle of soda in the sink, as it will foam up when you add the gelatin liquid. Using a funnel, pour the mixture back into the bottle. When the frothing subsides, add the food coloring, just a couple drops until the soda is light green. Re-cap and refrigerate a couple hours. The result is a green, sweet, strangely thickened, lightly carbonated beverage.
I recommend mixing equal parts Slurm and vodka to make a Slurmtini. Garnish with a slivered gummi worm.
Searching an M Class planet for “rodden berries” the Planet Express crew finds a pit full of delicious brown balls of wonder. Fry enjoys them so much he says, “Mmm. They’re like sex, except I’m having them!” The crew brings the delicacies back to earth and decides to call them “Popplers” though Bender recommends “tasticles.” The fast food chain Fishy Joe’s starts to sell them and they become massively popular world-wide. The only catch is that Popplers are really a juvenile stage of the sentient race of Omicron Persei 8.
Initial Thoughts: Popplers are part Tribble and part McNugget, so I wanted something cute, a little sweet, filling and delicious. Alien larva being scarce, I thought of all my favorite bite-size brown foods. Inari sushi is delicious but the wrong shape. And then, aha! I thought of plantains. (Oh wondrous plantain, you potatonana, how I adore you! I could eat several thousand of you a day.)
Using several ripe plantains and a little shredded chicken, I made fried up wee balls o’mush. Good flavor, lousy texture. I quickly realized the proportions were backward. They needed to be more chicken than plantain. After fixing the basic ingredients, I messed with a few spices before coming up with a particularly tasty end result.
This recipe calls for medium-ripe plantains. With plantains, as with bananas, ripe is relative. To some, ripe means completely black. As plantains ripen, starches convert into sugar, which means that a green, totally unripe plantain cooks totally different than a black one.
In this case, I recommend them to be yellowed with a good amount of spots. This is about midpoint in the starch-sugar continuum.
Also, if you can’t find garam masala, you can use a mixture of ground spices: cinnamon, clove, cardamom and ginger. It’s not really the same, but it will taste good.
2 medium-ripe plantains
1 lb chicken breast (weight before cooking)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon garam masala
Oil for frying
In a deep fryer or heavy pot, bring oil to 300-350 degrees. The amount of oil varies depending on the fryer or pot.
While the oil heats, saute or steam the chicken breast and chop into chunks. Peel the plantains (using a knife since the skins are very thick) and in a large bowl, use a potato masher to squish the plantains and chicken together. Once the plantains are a paste and the chicken is well pulverized, add the flour, garam masala, baking soda and coconut. Mix well. It looks pretty unappetizing at this stage.
Form the mixture into balls about an inch across. If the balls don’t form easily, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time, until it makes a workable cohesion. Carefully drop several balls into the oil. They cook very quickly. Turn them once during cooking, about 15 seconds along. Remove when medium to dark brown. Drain on paper towels and repeat until all the balls are fried. Serve warm.
In the show, Popplers are eaten by themselves. My Popplers are good plain or with various chutneys. If you’re out of Slurm, serve the Popplers with beer, motor oil or molten boron.
Next week: Star Trek!