Have you ever seen those large bright green banana-looking things in the produce section of your supermarket and wondered what they are or what you’re supposed to do with them? For years, I passed by the piles of lovely plantains without a clue as to what I was missing.
I was introduced to Puerto Rican cooking a couple of years ago when a friend invited me over for stewed chicken, black beans, rice, and something she called tostones. When I asked about the tostones, she explained that they were fried plátanos. This explanation did not help me at all because it’s been a long time since my two years of Spanish classes in high school and I’m pretty sure I never knew the Spanish word for plantain in the first place. But even though I had never cooked with them, or even seen one peeled, I recognized the large green bananas on the counter and I realized that plátanos are what I had always known as plantains. I couldn’t wait to taste them because I was really clueless when it came to these things.
Plantains are a staple throughout the tropical regions of the world. Despite their similarities on the outside, plantains are a little different than their cousin, the banana. When green, the plantain is starchy and very firm without any sweetness. At this stage they have a neutral flavor and are commonly used much like a potato. But as they ripen, plantains turn from green to yellow then black and sweeten much like a banana. As you might have guessed, plantains are eaten like a vegetable when green and when ripe, they turn into dessert.
I’ve only eaten green plantains although I will definitely branch out and try some sweet ones someday! If you aren’t afraid of a little oil, a great introduction to green plantains are the twice-friend slices called tostones. These can accompany any meal where you would normally serve pototoes and are best hot from the oil and well-salted.
You will need:
- 2 very ripe plantains (bright green with no yellow on the skin)
- Oil for frying (I use peanut oil)
- Heavy skillet for frying (don’t use non-stick for frying, it will ruin it)
- Something with a flat bottom for smashing the slices (see the tutorial I mention below)
In the skillet, heat half an inch of oil to about 325 degrees. Peel the plantains and slice crosswise into about 1-inch slices. Place slices in hot oil (oil should come up halfway on the slices). You want to cook the plantains in the oil only until they have cooked through on the inside, you don’t want the outside to become too crisp yet. If they are browning too quickly, turn the oil down a tiny bit and continue to fry them on each side until golden but not brown. To test if they are done, take one out and try smashing it to 1/4 inch thickness. If it flattens easily, continue to do the same with the others.
When all the pieces have been smashed, heat the same oil to 350 degrees and fry the plantain pieces until crispy and golden brown. Drain on paper towels and salt them immediately and generously.
I like tostones best when served with steak, black beans and rice.
To peel a plantain: first, cut about an inch off each end of the fruit. Next, score the skin lengthwise with a sharp knife, deep enough to cut through the skin but not too far into the fruit. Then, with a little elbow grease, pull the skin away from the fruit. It will most likely come off in sections, just keep working at it. Since I did not take photos of the step-by-step process, I found this great tutorial at Nika’s Culinaria which includes great photos!
For more information or for other recipes, check out these sites: