I feel so blessed to have been able to try many authentic cuisines from around the world. I've had fish and chips in England and eaten old world sourdough in France. I ordered schnitzel in Austria and was served borshct in Russia. (I ate Wendy's in Italy....yes, please throw tomatoes. It was one of the dumbest things I've done. I was 18, young and foolish.) I mentioned in the blog about gnocchi that I like to find authenticity in cooking. I enjoy Tex-Mex and Italian-American dishes but I am super curious about "what the locals eat."
Exotic came home in 1994 while I was a senior in college at Harding University in Searcy, AR. Harding has a large Latin American presence because of the Walton Scholarship Program . While I was at Harding, my family got to know Angelica from Costa Rica. She became like one of the family and often came over for dinner. One day, she brought plantains.
I remember being very, very curious about these green "bananas". I don't know how she got them, because they weren't at our local grocery store at the time, but she insisted they were easy to prepare and delicious. She walked me through how to prepare them. They were completely different than I thought they'd be. They weren't sweet at all, but starchy, salty and oh, so good; crispy around the edges and soft in the middle. She called them tostones (toes-toe-nayz). They are also called patatones (pa-tah-toe-nayz). They reminded me of potatoes, between a french fry and a potato chip. Angelica served them with refried beans and we ate and ate and ate them!
That was the last time I had plantains for several years. Then, one day, I saw the large, green banana-looking things at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Searcy. I was so excited! I brought them home and made a batch. By this time, Matt and I were participating in our church's host student program that supports the Walton Scholarship kids. Our host daughter, Elisa, is from Honduras. She showed us how slather tostones with a garlic, butter and parsley sauce. That pushed them over the edge and it is how I serve them now. Here is how I do it.
Start with completely green plantains. They are very starchy and hard, with no hint of sweetness. These must be cooked first. When plantains turn yellow, they are still very firm but start to get sweet. Don't throw away a plantain that has turned black, that is when they are the sweetest and can be eaten raw.
You'll need: peanut oil, plantains, salt, 2 garlic cloves, 2 T. butter and parsley (opt.)
Preparing tostones is like making french fries. It requires two frying times, once in a medium temperature oil and again in a higher temperature oil. First, take a 12 inch skillet and pour about 1/4 inch of oil into the skillet. Preheat this oil over medium heat. Take your green, raw plantain and cut off the ends.
Then, slice through the peel, lengthwise, about an 1/8th of an inch. Don't worry if you score a little of the plantain itself. Peel the plantain completely. It does not peel as easily as a banana. Use your thumb to loosen the peel from the fruit.
If you smell a banana-y aroma, don't be surprised, they do smell faintly like bananas, but don't taste like them at all. Then, cut the plantains in one inch thick pieces.
You will know when your oil is ready when your plantains sizzle mildly when you put them in. Don't over heat the oil at this point, we just want to cook them through. Place the plantains in the oil and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until they are a nice yellow color but not golden brown, then flip them over. In the picture below, you can see how I have flipped most of the plantains. The ones in the back are pale yellow and the flipped ones are a deeper yellow. You may have to cook the plantains in batches. The three plantains for my family needed two batches.
After they cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, take them out of the oil and smash them one at a time with a 2 inch object like a drinking glass. Do this kind of fast. You can't leave them to smash later or they will be more difficult to flatten. After all the plantains are cooked and removed, crank up the heat under the oil to medium high.
Place these on a cooling rack with a towel underneath.
By this point, your oil should be ready for the second fry. Place the smashed plantains in the hot oil. Cook until a deep golden brown on each side. I find the first side takes about 2 to 3 minutes and the second side only takes 1 to 2 minutes.
|Before the flip|
|After the flip...one more minute left!|
|The plantains in the front have had their second fry. Notice the deeper color.|
|This is the sauce after I microwaved it. I stuck it in my oven while the rest of the plantains fried.|