Its amazing how few people are familiar with the plantain. You know, the large green “bananas” you see in the produce section?
“Yeah, I’ve seen those before,” say most of my guests when they stare oddly at my plantain concoctions, “But I thought that they were just unripe bananas.”
For the uninitiated, the plantain is a fruit like the banana, but it has a much lower sugar content. I know of no one that eats these things raw, as they are always cooked. As the plantain ripens it takes on a yellow color with mottled brown spots and tastes sweeter. In fact, it will look just like a banana, except more firm in texture. The plantain is a staple in Latin cuisine and is used in various ways. In this post, I will focus on only one treatment.
Tostones are eaten throughout the Latin Americas and are prepared essentially the same way (in South America they are more commonly knows as patacones). First of all, the plantain needs to be peeled. Believe it or not, this is a fairly difficult task. Select fruits that are green but just starting to turn yellow. Cut off the ends then slit the skin with a knife on at least two sides and peel the skin. The last time I did this the skin didn’t peel, it broke off in pieces. Next, slice the plantain into 1″ thick chunks. The second step, which is often overlooked, is to soak the pieces in salt water for about ten minutes. This allows it to soak up some flavor before cooking.
Drain the chunks and pat dry. Cook the pieces in preheated oil at about 350° for 3-5 minutes, or until it turns a nice golden yellow in color and then set aside to drain. Since most of you won’t have a tostonera (a special tool to flatten the plantains), use the bottom of a soup can to flatten the plantains. They should now be about 1/4″ thick. Fry again at the same temperature for about 3 minutes or until they just begin to brown. Remove from the oil to drain and salt immediately or the salt will not stick (just a little tip based on my observations).
By themselves, the tostones would be pretty boring. That’s why you need to prepare a dipping sauce. Bobby Flay has a recipe for a mojo (pronounced moho) sauce, but I think that recipe is better suited for a marinade. I have two preferences for dipping sauces:
1. Garlic butter. As simple as that. Crush several cloves of garlic and add to melted butter and a pinch of salt. Personally, the more garlic the better (as long as you don’t mind tasting it tomorrow as well.
2. Mix equal parts of ketchup and mayonnaise (not salad dressing), add fresh, crushed garlic and salt to taste and a small squeeze of lemon juice. Trust me on this, it is a fantastic accompaniment to your fried tostones.
Personally, I like eating tostones, not making them. Look around at your local grocery for frozen Goya products and buy the tostones already fried and flattened. All you have to do is fry them once. This is a lot easier and tastes just as good.
Let me know what you think. Have you ever mistaken a plantain for a banana and eaten it? I’d like to hear from you.