Sometimes I get these weird cravings and they will not subside until they get fed. There are days where these craving come from somewhere beyond normal. Like when an order of Wendy’s french fries dunked into a Frosty will do the trick.
For those of you who just thought yuck, try it. It’s much better than dunking your fries in mayonnaise.
Then there are the rare occasions when I have to binge down on a big can of Peanut Patch boiled peanuts.
Nutty, salty and sloppy goodness.
Normally, my cravings tend to be more rational, or at least what I believe to be rational. Like when a slice of pizza (or two) will be the only thing that cures the hunger pangs. Or when you just need that home-cooked comfort food you grew up with, and for me that always means Cuban food.
Lately, I’ve been craving two of my favorite Latin side dishes — plantains.
I’ve heard some horror stories from some of my friends who have visited Miami and tasted cooked sweet plantains (what we call maduros) and the crispy fried and cooked plantains (we call tostones, which are different than mere fried plantain chips … but I digress).
Often, my friends will tell me how they desperately tried and failed to re-create the flavor of the more-popular sweet plantain dish. The conversation often goes like this.
Friend: I tried to make those maduros I ate while in Miami, but the taste was completely off.
Me: What kind of plantain did you use?
Friend: A sweet banana.
Me: (stares back at friend with head slightly cocked to the side, you know the look you get when you say something to your dog and they are like, huh?) You used a banana?
Friend: Yeah, bananas are sweet, plantains are hard and not sweet so …
Me: (face palm) Oh boy.
OK, so let’s get a little plantain 101 talk going on here. Yes, a banana is sweet to some extent and can be cooked in specific ways, especially when used in desserts like banana foster.
Oh, great. Now I’m wanting to take a trip back to New Orleans and hit Brennan’s, the birthplace of banana foster in 1946.
Plantains are from the banana family, but they are unsuitable served raw and must be cooked. They have less sugar and are starchier than bananas.
Maduros and tostones are made from the same plantain.
Most plantains you see at the store are green and firm to the touch. You might see a few that are yellow with brown and are softer. Those are the same plantains. They are picked while still green and firm and as they ripen they turn yellow, then brown, and from firm to squishy.
Take note, people. The yellowish, brown, soft and almost way too squishy, might-be-time-to-throw-out-looking plantains make the perfect maduros.
Why, you ask?
Because as the plantain ripens, the starch starts to break down and releases the sugar.
Simply and carefully peel the plantain and cut the slices on the diagonal about an inch thick each. Place enough cooking oil in a pan that will cover half the plantain while cooking and set the temperature on medium high.
Once the oil is heated, place in your slices and turn them over after a minute or two. Turn the temperature to low and continue to cook and turn on each side until the plantains caramelize to a golden brown color. It’s important to keep vigilant because if you leave them on too long, the sugar from the plantain will overcook, turn black and taste charred.
Yep, I did that when I first tried to make these without mom, had to throw out the whole batch, wait for my other plantain to ripen and try again.
Tostones are just as easy to make and since there is no waiting for the plantain to ripen, they can be done the minute you unload the groceries at home.
Take the green plantain and cut off the two ends. This makes it a bit easier to peel the plantain since the skin on these is still thick and tough to peel. If necessary, use a paring knife and peel the plantain completely. Cut the plantain into 1-inch chunks. Heat some cooking oil in a large skillet and then cook the chunks for about three minutes on each side.
Have a cooking tray or cutting board ready and place the cooked plantain chunks on the tray or board. Use a small plate, or the back of a wide butcher’s knife, to press down and flatten each chunk. Once the plantain chunks are flattened, put them back in the cooking oil for another one or two minutes on each side. Remove from heat, salt to taste and serve.
You can use a tortilla press, if you have one, to flatten the tostones. I’ve even used my mom’s favorite flattening tool — a folded brown paper bag.
Now that is old-style.
Give it a shot and let me know what you think. Looking for other Cuban treats? Drop me an email.
Reach Leon at firstname.lastname@example.org.