Plantains - Part I

Plantains are an integral part of my culture. We boil them, we fry them, we add them in casserole dishes; we eat them as appetizers or with the main meal. They are ubiquitous in the Caribbean. Almost every island has a claim to them. To those if us who are not familiar with plantains (platanos), think of them as bananas on steroids. And in Puerto Rican cuisine there are two categories that we enjoy.

The first category are green, unripe plantains. These we serve as tostones, or fried green plantains. And that is what we will discuss today.

Green plantains, these days, can be found almost anywhere. My wife and I summer in Vermont. And even in Vermont we can find plantains. In the regular world, any Caribbean or Asian market will carry them. In the northeast, they are found in almost any supermarket.

I prefer tostones to their close cousin, the amarillos, the ripe plantains. Some folks prefer the ripe ones. It's all a matter of taste. They are both equally delicious.

In the recipe included below the plantains are fried twice. In other parts of the Caribbean, notably Jamaica, the plantains are deep-fried just once. They are not pounded and re-fried. For those who follow our method, the unbroken skin of the plantain is used for flattening the tostones. Otherwise, you can acquire what is called a tostonera in any Latin market. This consists of two pieces of wood or plastic that hinge over to enclose the plantains slices. Here, again, I defer to tradition. Nothing beats the plantain peels and the flat of the hand for pressing the tostones.

The recipe is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Book Group).

3 green plantains
4 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
Vegetable oil for frying

1. To remove the skin from the plantain, cut tips at both ends, cut a slit along the length of the plantain and peel off. To facilitate easier handling, some cooks dip plantains in hot water for 5 minutes and then remove the skin. Once plantains are peeled, cut into diagonal slices about 1-inch thick. Reserve peels.
2. Combine water and salt in a bowl and soak plantain slices for 30 minutes. Drain well.
3. Fill a cast-iron or heavy bottomed skillet halfway with vegetable oil. Heat oil until very hot (about 375 degrees). Deep fry plantains for 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
5. Place a plantain slice between two plantain peels, envelope fashion, and pound flat with the palm of the hand. Repeat until all slices are pressed. Return plantains to the skillet and cook until golden grown (about 5 minutes longer). Drain on absorbent paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Yield: 12 to 18 tostones.

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