Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Fry-ful Trip Into The Past

As I settle in to my new apartment, the one thing that still bugs me is coming home from work and having that new paint smell hit me in the face as I step through the front door. I officially moved in 2 weeks ago, but the smell still persists. It was cute in the beginning when the whole experience was new and exciting ... but something needed to be done. So I decided to break in my new kitchen by cooking as often as possible, in the hope that the various food aromas would replace that new paint smell and start making this place feel more like home to me. I grilled marinated chicken breasts one night, made bacon and eggs another morning, prepared a braised beef stew another time, and so on. Slowly I was starting to get this place smelling like normal, but wasn't quite there yet.

And then nostalgia hit. I might have mentioned it here on the blog once or twice, but I have virtually no connection to my Latin roots. My mother was Caucasian, and my father hailed from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Our father was never around growing up, although he lived in the same city and we would visit his family on occasion. So we were never indoctrinated into the traditional Dominican culture that thrives in northern Manhattan, the western South Bronx, and a large neighborhood in Queens. Our cultural cues came from our mother and, later, her mother and her sister. Which meant we grew up with fried chicken and apple pie, corn on the cob and potato salad (among many other staple Americana dishes). However, my mother did try to assimilate herself into the local Latin American culture here in New York. She spoke fluent Spanish as a second language, and her friends were all Latina. So occasionally she would prepare more traditional Latin-Caribbean dishes which her friends and mother-in-law taught her to make. Us kids hated it. We preferred our hamburgers and sloppy joes, thank you very much.

However, one particular Latin staple we did enjoy was fried green plantains. In Spanish-speaking Caribbean cultures, the dish is known as "tostones." In most Central and South American countries, they are called "patacones." But in my household we simply called them "platanos," regardless of how the plantains were being prepared. However, I do recall my sweet Dominican grandmother calling them "fritas verdes" on occasion. Tostones are typically twice-fried and served as a side dish. Although many people eat them as snacks or, even, as a full meal. I'm guilty of the latter, actually.

The thing is, it's been years since I've had tostones. Well over two decades, in fact! And I've never made them myself. All I had to go on were memories of standing in the kitchen as my mother cooked, which means I had to have been all of 7 or 8 years old at the time. Wow! Still, I'd seen it done often enough, and tostones are actually ridiculously simple to make. And luckily for me, I still live in a part of the city that's home to a pretty sizable Hispanic population. So plantains are more plentiful in the markets here than bananas. They are sold 10 for 1 dollar, in fact. Sometimes cheaper.

Suddenly thinking about my childhood, and about the different ways of making plantains--be they green or yellow (aka, "maduros")--I developed a huge craving for them. It was the weirdest thing, but my body immediately wanted some tostones in the worst way imaginable! So, I decided to give it a try. I thought it would be neat to travel back to my childhood and prepare a dish reminding me of home and my mother, and even my father's family. And as a bonus, perhaps banish some more of that new paint smell to boot!

I went to the supermarket this week and purchased myself all the necessary ingredients for making yummy tostones: plantains, corn oil (I usually only keep olive oil in the house), and a trusty tostonera--that ubiquitous hinged instrument of tostones making consisting of two wooden slabs for which to smash sliced pieces of plantain between. My mother just used a heavy pan with foil on the bottom to flatten each piece atop a cutting board, but I decided to get a little fancy with my bad self!


Since I'm only one person expecting leftovers to spare,
I figured 4 plantains were enough for the task.
 
 
With a knife, make a shallow slit lengthwise down the
plantain, then gently peel apart with your thumb.
 

Cut width-wise into 1- to 2-inch thick pieces.


Fry until darker yellow in pre-heated corn or vegetable oil
over medium heat. Turn over pieces for even frying.
 

Place on paper towels and pat dry the oil away.
 

Flatten each piece with a hard, flat surface. Or use a trusty
tostonera (pictured).
 

Slide flattened pieces back into the oil and fry on each side until
golden brown and crispy.
 

Place twice-fried pieces on new paper towels for drying, then
sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve immediately while still hot.


The end result was a little over-fried I admit, but still tasted exactly as I remembered them. Oh, the memories! Next time I'll fry them for a little less time. I couldn't think of what main dish to have alongside the tostones, though, so I ended up eating them alone. Was quite filling, in fact. And oh-so-delicious! I had around 11 pieces left over when all was said and done, so I wrapped them up in foil and placed them in the refrigerator for another day. They're best served piping hot and straight out of the pan, but I'll reheat them in the oven at 350 degrees F and they should be fine. I hope. *gulp*

Oh, and the house smells a little less painty and more like corn oil and plantains now, which is quite the improvement I say.

Anyway, have you had tostones, or patacones, or whatever you call them in your neck of the woods? You might want to give this recipe a try if you're curious otherwise. And as usual, share your thoughts in the comments below.

8 comments:

Botanist said...

Sounds good. Never had them - do they taste anything at all like banana? They go crispy without any kind of coating or batter? Must be some starch in there or something.

David Batista said...

Ian, they are very starchy. So, yes, crispy all on their own. This recipe calls for unripened plantains, however. Hence the green. But you can also wait for them to ripen and turn yellow, when they become much softer and sweet tasting very similar to bananas. I really enjoyed them ripe and fried as a kid. Both styles have their place as staples in Caribbean cuisine, though. More so the green.

Cin said...

Sounds yummy! You are a really good cook, who knew.;) Maybe I will request you make this for one of our Friday dinners. But I must consult with my little chefs.

David Batista said...

Cin--Any time! I would love to have them assist me. These are really easy to make.

Yvonne said...

Ahh, we call them marudos (ripe) Growing up, my mom indulged my dad in most of his favorite dishes from Nicarague, and marudos was one of them. But I've heard them be called tostones, platanos and fritas verdes. What a treat for you! They look delish! Great job, sweets!

Yvonne said...

Oh and I'm glad the paint smell is going away. I HATE paint smell! :)

thE gEOgrAphicAlly blind said...

Haha... I'm gonna move into a new house soon and it's undergoing renovation. I made the kitchen isolated to avoid the smell of cooking from travelling into the living / dining room, and leaving stench on the curtain or couch. Wonder if I'd ever get rid of the paint smell :)

David Batista said...

Yvonne--I love the ripe ones most of all. But the green type is also delicious in its own way, right? I knew you would have grown up eating these as well. Latin power, activate!!! :)

SL--That's right, congratulations on your upcoming nuptials! :) That's a good idea about the kitchen. And, yes, definitely try to get rid of that new paint smell as soon as possible!

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