I first tried plantains at the Caribbean lunch cart on 11th and Marshall Streets in downtown Richmond. It was cold and windy outside and the warm fried plantains had a greasy, crispy outside with a soft and sweet middle. They were just what I needed on a frigid day in mid-January on my short lunch break from work.
I encountered plantains again at Kuba Kuba in the Fan, in the form of tostones. These Cuban treats were served as a side, like chips or fries are served with sandwiches. The Cuban tostones were the inspiration for my own experiment with plantains at home. I picked them up at the local grocery store and couldn’t wait to figure out how to fix them.
Plantains look similar to bananas, however they are less sweet than bananas and often need to be cooked before you enjoy them. They are cooked various ways in different parts of the world, either at the point that they are underripe (green) or overripe. Overripe plantains are referred to as “maduros” and are sweeter than the starchy green plantains. Green plantains are double-fried and yield thick chips with crispy outsides and a mashed potato-like center. Maduros are softer and sweeter, and they are typically fried just once.
The double-fried method is popular in Cuban cuisine, in which plantains are a staple. The plantains are cut into thick slices , fried in oil, patted dry, and then smashed individually. In the second step of the frying process, the mashed plantains are dipped in salt water and then returned to the pan to fry until crisp. In Cuba and many other Latin American countries, tostones are fried and coated in salt, and then eaten like fries or chips. When cooked properly, they are a salty and slightly sweet treat.
I used a recipe from Epicurious to make my tostones, with a little advice and pictorial guidance from Three Guys from Miami. While the recipe was pretty involved, it was easy to follow and it yielded three to four batches of beautifully crisp and delicious tostones.
A word of advice: unless you want to season the plantains with your own beads of sweat, do not attempt tostones in a small kitchen on a 100-degree day in downtown Richmond. Double frying several batches of plantain chunks can get a little hot. It was not the most comfortable cooking situation, but perhaps the heat allowed me to get into a more authentic groove. I was feeling a bit closer to the equator at the end of this adventure than I did when we started!
3 to 4 large unripe (green) plantains
sea salt to taste
2 cups vegetable or olive oil for frying
With a sharp small knife cut ends from each plantain and cut a lengthwise slit through skin. Cut plantains crosswise into 1-inch-thick pieces and, beginning at slit, pry skin from pieces. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet heat 1/2 inch oil over moderate heat until just hot enough to sizzle when a plantain piece is added. Fry plantains in batches, without crowding, until tender and just golden, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. With tongs transfer plantains as fried to paper towels to drain.
Remove skillet from heat and reserve oil. With the bottom of a heavy saucepan or a wide solid metal spatula flatten plantains to 1/4 inch thick (about 3 inches in diameter). Into a bowl of warm salted water dip flattened plantains, 1 at a time, and drain them well on paper towels.
Heat reserved oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and fry flattened plantains in batches, without crowding, until golden, about 3 minutes. With tongs transfer tostones as fried to paper towels to drain and season with salt if desired. Serve tostones immediately.
For an even more authentic treat, serve tostones with an ice cold mojito. The perfect pairing for a hot summer day!