Clucks and Tostones

Last time I went to the grocery store, I bought two plantains for no real reason, perhaps other than the fact that Coscto doesn’t carry them. The entire stock looked to be past the “green” stage, so they must not fly off the shelves, but I figured I would give them a try anyway, as Jeremy has been a plantain fan since discovering Pio Pio in NYC. (I was not as impressed when I visited, but that may well have been because he had dragged me there on foot after hours upon hours of immersion at the Met. We walked past Mandy Patinkin on the way and I barely noticed.) At any rate, I decided to go Puerto Rican. I’ve been interested in this cuisine since learning that it is often not as spicy as most Latino cooking, and chose pollo guisado, or stewed chicken, yellow rice with beans, and tostones, which are twice-fried plantain fritters.

First of all, I had to grind up a batch of sazón, since I’ve never come across this Latino seasoning in the grocery store here—likely I’m just not looking in the right spot. My sazón used equal parts (about a tablespoon each) whole coriander, cumin, and annatto seed, plus garlic powder and salt, all ground together in my spice grinder. It made a lot more than I needed, so I have it stored in an empty spice jar for future use. In these proportions, the annatto did not have an especially strong tinting power, so if you want a strong color, I would recommend the use of achiote oil or annatto paste as well.

The sazón seasoned both the simple stewed chicken I made, as well as a batch of rice in the cooker. While they cooked, I worked on the tostones. I went with an Alton Brown recipe, which called for frying chunks of plantain to soften them, briefly dunking these in garlic-tinged water, smashing them flat, and frying them again until crispy. My plantains were definitely a bit over-ripe for this application: they peeled much more easily than they should have, and when I flattened them, it made quite a gooey mess that was hard to get from the cutting board to the oil intact. I used an offset spatula and gently scraped them up, and it would have been hard to tell the difference in the finished product. A nibble of the first batch gave me no taste of garlic, so I decided to sprinkle half of the finished tostones with salt and the rest with cinnamon sugar for dessert.

What did we think? The stewed chicken was tasty, but would have been improved with bone-in or dark meat cuts, as it was a little dry. It also probably didn’t have quite the authentic flavor because I had only red bell peppers on hand. The rice was good; as I mentioned, it didn’t get quite as much color from the sazón as I would have liked. I stirred in a cup or so of thawed pinto beans to give it a boost; some sauteed onions, peas, or other vegetables and herbs would have been equally suitable additions. The savory tostones were actually delicious; I liked them a lot this time, and was disappointed that Jeremy snuck a few extras while I was photographing my plate for all of you, more so because I didn’t care for the cinnamon-sugar version at all. My sweet tooth failed me on that one—I wish now that I’d just salted the lot. Still, now that I know I like plantains under some circumstances, we will be that much more likely to seek them out in the future.

(And incidentally, Food Network, how in the world is a crab, avocado and mango roll a similar recipe to fried plantains? I don’t get it.)

Tostones (Fried Plantains)

2 C water
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tsp kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1 1/2 C vegetable or canola oil
2-3 green plantains

Combine water, garlic and salt in medium size glass bowl and set aside.

In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat oil to 325F. Peel plantains (slice off the top and bottom, score the peel with a knife in sections, and pry the sections free; the greener the plantain, the harder this will be to accomplish), and slice into 1-inch pieces. Carefully add plantain pieces to the oil in batches and fry until golden yellow in color, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per side. (The oil should come halfway up the side of the plantain). With a spider or slotted spoon, remove the plantains from the pan and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, standing them on their ends.

With the back of a wide, wooden spatula (I used my meat pounder), press each piece of plantain down to half its original size. Then place the plantains in the water and let soak for 1 minute. (I soaked and dried before smashing mine, and I’m glad I did because I think they would have disintegrated in the water.) Remove and pat dry with a tea towel to remove excess water.

Bring oil back up to 325F and return plantains to pan, cooking until golden brown, approximately 2 to 4 minutes per side. Remove to a dish lined with paper towels, and sprinkle liberally with salt. Serve immediately.

Source: Food Network.

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