Mmm, tostones. The cure for the common french fry. I don't remember the first time I tried these delicious bundles of savory fried plantain, but it was sometime after moving to New York. In fact, before I knew what a plantain was, I bought a couple at a local bodega, thinking they were enormous, super under-ripe bananas - that was a confusing time. In my travels to Latin American and Caribbean countries later on, it was impossible to get through a meal without finding some form of plantain, either green or maduro - no complaints from me.
Plantains are an awesome fruit to work with - a green plantain is great for tostones and mofongo (something I have yet to try at home - I prefer Dominican style over Puerto Rican style, but neither is exactly simple to make), or a ripened, yellow-to-black maduro can make an array of delicious, sweet side dishes or desserts. In my neighborhood, costs range from 25 cents apiece down to 10 cents apiece on sale, so it's an incredibly cost-effective food. Also? Tostones are easy to make and incredibly satisfying.
Tostones Gringos (or, Some American's Version of Tostones)
*I usually eat them plain at home, but they are often served with a delicious garlic dipping sauce.
*A light-tasting extra virgin olive oil (for cooking, not the good stuff) is my choice for simple frying, but you can use any oil with a high smoke point, like canola, peanut, or grapeseed oils.
*Use common sense and EXTREME CAUTION when frying - keep the heat at medium-high, use the proper tools, and never leave the oil unattended. Also, wear an apron and your favorite destroyed tee, just in case. Only grown-ups do the frying, please.
*Kiddies excel at the flattening of the plantains - just be sure to supervise and wait until plantains are cool enough to safely handle after the first fry.
2 large green plantains
1/2 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, depending on pan size
Equipment: Pot with tall sides (6+ inches, like a stock pot), metal and/or heatproof tongs (or a slotted spoon, in a pinch), sharp knife, a few paper towels, and a glass or measuring cup with a flat, 3"+ bottom surface for flattening the plantains.
The plantains should be a nice green color with a thick, fibrous shell. Make a few small surface slices lengthwise and begin to peel - these fellows don't peel as easily as a familiar banana, so be patient.
Once the peels have been conquered, slice the plantains into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch pieces, depending on how large you want the final product. Thicker slices mean meatier tostones. I've cut straight through in the photos, but restaurants will often cut on the diagonal for a larger piece. Your choice. Meanwhile, pour the oil into your deep pan, enough to fill the pan about a quarter to half inch deep. Many tostones recipes call for enough oil to allow you to literally deep-fry the pieces, but I try to minimize the amount of oil used while maximizing the pan space for frying.
Turn the heat to medium-high. When the oil shimmers, place the plantain pieces in the pan using a pair of long-handled tongs or a slotted spoon. Allow a tiny bit of space between the pieces.
Fry until golden and a little crispy, about 3-5 minutes. Much like braising a piece of meat, you can test the readiness to flip your plantain pieces by their willingness to detach from the bottom of the pan - if they stick a bit, let them fry for another minute or so. When ready, flip and fry the other side for another 3-5 minutes.
Spread 2 paper towels on a large plate, cut the pan heat off, and carefully transfer the pieces to a paper towel using your tongs or slotted spoon. Allow them to shed a little oil and cool to a handling temperature, but not cold. This takes less than 5 minutes.
Using the flat bottom of a measuring cup or drinking glass, apply light pressure to the pieces, and flatten to your desired thickness. I like to flatten to about half the original thickness - enough to make a crispy edge and soft inside.
Reheat the oil, and carefully place the flattened pieces back in for the second fry, about another 3-5 minutes. This crisps the edges, and softens the centers for a fantastic texture.
Cut the heat and carefully remove the tostones with your tongs to a fresh set of paper towels. Sprinkle with sea salt and your favorite seasonings, like garlic powder or rosemary. 2 large plantains will yield about 20 - 24 pieces.