Plantains, Plátanos and the Puerto Rican Day Parade
When I moved from New Mexico to Southern California I was introduced to new-to-me Chicano and Mexican-American food (different than New Mexican grub, but that’s a topic for another time). It was in Pomona, California that I became extremely attached to my Mexican grocery stores, fully equipped with in-house tortillerias that not only made fresh tortillas but also churned out manteca de puerco and freshly fried totopos. Even better each store also had a panaderia that baked sweet, colorful and crusty pan dulce and fresh-from-the-oven bolillos filled with jalapeños y requesón.
L.A. gave me three tasty years of real Mexican food, so when we departed for the East Coast I sad a sad adios to chayote, chile y Bimbo brand bread of La Favorita Rancho Market and Cardenas and became acquainted with the platanos, sofrito and Goya brand habichuelas (are frijoles, who knew?) of my new Morningside heights and Harlem grocers.
Although I live very near “little Mexico” in Harlem, a comfort that provides me with the best Mexico City style quesadillas and ingredients from flor de jamaica to cuitlacoche, I have made a point to become familiar with the Puerto Rican culture and cuisine that dominate the Latino scene here in New York City. With each grocery trip I sample ingredients typical of la Isla del Encanto and investigate how to cook them up well!
Embracing the culture has been important to us too. Some Saturday afternoons Alex and I people watch and buy homemade maduros y bacalaitos at La Placita de la Marqueta. If we’re feeling especially feisty we join-in and dance the salsa and bomba, although the viejos tear up the floor with more energy and style than we’ll ever possess.
And this June we even marched with our boricua hermanos in the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Just like their Mexican cousins, Puerto Ricans and Nuyoricans wave their flag con mucho orgullo! As we marched the crowed chanted, Yo Soy Boricua, Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! (I’m Puerto Rican, Just So You Know!). By the end of the parade my brother, Alex and I were three Mexicans chanting it too!
This recipe is based of the two most widely used recipes for preparing plantains in the Puerto Rican manner. Making plátanos maduros requires you to simply cut and quickly fry a very ripe, black sweet plantain. Preparing plantains this way is common throughout the Caribbean and also in Veracruz, Mexico (which is no surprice since it is a coastal state with a huge African and Caribbean influnces). Puerto Rican Tostones, on the other hand, are made from unripe green plantains that, because of their extra starchiness, are fried, smashed and fried again.
The following recipe is a mash-up of the two methods. I take sweet, ripe plantains and prepare them like twice-fried tostones and serve them with a squirt of lime juice, a sprinkle of salt and a dash of chile powder (they’re also tasty with a drizzle of crema). If you don’t have a tostonera don’t fret, I’ve seen the women who sell tostones at La Marqueta mash their plantains between two paper plates!
- Tostones Another Way
- Ripe, black plantain
- Vegetable Oil
- Chile Powder
- Crema (optional)
- Peel the plantain by carefully cutting length-wise from one tip to the other, taking care not to pierce the flesh of the fruit. Loosen the peel along the cut and remove the meat of the plantain.Cut the plantain into slices, each about 2 inches long.
In a large skillet on medium-high heat 1/2 cup oil (so the oil is about 1/2 inch deep). Test the oil by carefully sticking the end of a wooden spoon in, if it sizzles it’s ready. Once the oil is hot, fry the plantain slices for approximately 3 minutes on each side, just so they are tender.Remove plantains to a plate and pat off excess oil with clean paper towels. Turn off heat. Use a tostonera (plantain press) or two paper plates to smash the plantains into rounds half their original thickness.Reheat the oil on high and place each smashed plantain in the oil, frying for about 1 minute on each side, just until golden brown. Remove from heat and drain on clean paper towels. Sprinkle with lime juice, salt, chile powder and cream (optional) and enjoy immediately.