Those things are plantains – Musa paradisiaca – a kind of banana we in the Caribbean use to make all manner of delicious, stodgy things, preferably plunged into hot fat and heavily salted. Plantains originated in SouthEast Asia or the Near East or thereabouts and came over with colonialism. They flourish in the tropics and are now integral to the Caribbean culinary canon.
Tostones – called patacones in other parts of Latin America – are disks that – much like French fries – are sliced and fried twice -once to cook through and the second time to crisp. As the holidays approach and I feel more and more festive, I am saying “Calories be damned, I need some of those!” So I’ve been making tostones for dinner. Yes, the whole meal. And we are all loving it.
My son dips them in ketchup, my favorite Dominican restaurant serves them with a garlic mojo sauce, and Puerto Ricans like them dipped in mayo-ketchup, a quick stir of mayonnaise and ketchup (that Kraft actually markets on the island!). These days I just sprinkle salt on them; some folk like garlic salt or powdered garlic. Years ago my friend, Chef Patricia Wilson pioneered serving them topped with sour cream and caviar at noted Old San Juan restaurant Amadeus…with a flute of dry sparkling they dress up real nice. You can dip them in hot soup too…mmmmm.
So give tostones a try; the first soak in water is critical; the second one less so, but it doesn’t really add much time to the procedure and it does add flavor and texture, so why not?
(Note: you will need two boards or two plates to smush the disks between rounds in the frying pan)
5 green plantains*
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
4 Cups water
2 tsp salt
¾ – 1 Cup vegetable oil (for frying, enough oil to be about ½ inch deep in your chosen frying pot or pan)
Preparing the plantains: Slice both tips off. With a knife, make lengthwise slits through the peel on two sides. Try not to pierce the flesh too much. Peel the thick skin off.
Stir garlic, water and salt in a bowl. Slice the plantains into ½ inch chunks, on the bias, and place slices in bowl of salted water. Soak for 15 minutes to one hour. Drain on paper towel.
Heat the oil in a heavy pot or pan. When the oil is shimmering, add as many plantain slices as will fit comfortably. Fry until golden (really golden – not just beige) turning with tongs.
This is where you begin to make an assembly line. Be ready with a couple of plates covered in paper towels for absorbing oil.
Remove and lay the first set on paper towels and place the next round in the hot oil. While the second set is frying, take the first set (the one you’ve already fried) and squash fairly flat in a tostonera, if you’ve got, or between two plates. Dip in the salted water and lay back on the paper towels. You may have another raw set to go (it depends on the size of your fry pot). Follow the same pattern until all plantain disks are pre-fried until golden, squashed flat, and dipped. Then start returning plantain disks for the final fry to crisp them up. Remove when beginning to brown and lay on clean paper towels until cool enough to eat.
*Look for firm, green, thick skins. As they yellow, they become sweeter and have other uses…