Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tostones

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These, my friends, are tostones - say it with me class - tos-to-ness. What are tostones? Fried green plantains, the latin american answer to french fries. But, *whispers*, there are rules for making good tostones. Just like many people massacre a good fry, there are imposters out there in the form of restaurants that serve tough, undercooked, overripe, tostones. What are the rules of tostones? The first rule of tostones, is you don't talk about tostones.

Kidding!

First, the plantains must be green. Not slightly green, not tinged with yellow, absolutely green. Mine had more black spots than I like but living in the middle of North Carolina beggars can't be choosers. Ideally you want less black splotches but absolutely NO tinges of yellow. Any little bit of yellow on your plaintain will ruin the texture of your tostones. At that point you may as well put those suckers in a paper bag, let them go black and then make them as maduros (fried ripe plaintains). Equally yummy but not tostones just the same. Trust me.

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The second rule of tostones is you don't talk about tostones.

I'm sorry, that's the last time. The second rule is to use the plaintains within a day at the most. If not they will begin to ripen and again you will be left clutching your not-green-not-ripe plaintains in the kitchen bawling your eyes out over an unfulfilled craving. Not that I've ever done that, but I care for my friends and wanted to spare you the grief.

So, on to learning how to properly peel a plantain. First, step away from the knife. Right now, just put it down and put on your listening ears. If you start hacking away at that plaintain with your paring knife you'll end up with a plantain looking like some middle school whittling project gone bad. My people, yes my people, have been eating plaintains on that teeny island of ours for quite some time so we know how to skin a plantain. Yup, you're going to sort of skin the plantain. First lop off the ends on either side.

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Now, in the natural raised ridges of the plantain insert a small steak or paring knife only about 1/4" deep. Slit with the knife from the top of the plaintain all the way to the bottom. Find the next ridge and repeat. Slit the plaintain a total of two to three times.

Once you've slit the skin, insert the knife into one of the slits and wiggle it slightly horizontally like if you were shucking an oyster. It's a horizontal, short stroke movement that is meant to dislodge the skin from the inner part of the plaintain. Continue rocking the knife as you travel down the slit and pretty soon you'll feel the peel separate and then you insert your finger. If you did it right, the peel will begin to come off completely in one large chunk. If the peel doesn't come off completely then it's okay to take some off with the knife blade, but remember no whittling.

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Look! Peeled plantains! Obviously no pictures of me dislodging the peel. I promise one day I'll get brave and break out the tripod. However today this was lunch, and the troops were hungry.

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Now slice up the plantains into one inch rounds. Heat up your oil (yes we're going to deep fry) on medium high heat. Once hot, fry the rounds for about three minutes until they are a pale greenish/golden color.

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Like this. You want them to be just cooked through the center but with almost no browning at all.

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While your tostones are frying up the first time, you need to find a smashing implement. This is not a torture device, well, if you keep your fingers out of the way. This is a tostonera, aka a toston masher. It's a pretty simple operation. The fried rounds go in the center, you press the top down and bam, tostones.

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This was a gift from my mom when I was a newlywed. Moms are wise, way before I had the craving for making my own tostones, my mom was outfitting me with the gear. Growing up, my mom's tostonera was a wooden one exactly like this one. My new and improved model has those diamond ridges which I think make it easier to release the smashed plantain. On my mom's wooden model the smashed plantain tended to stick a bit if it was mashed too thin.

Do you need a tostonera? Not really. A sturdy flat bottomed glass works in a pinch. Maybe with a bit of wax/plastic/parchment paper to make dislodging the mashed toston easier.

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Today we have a first in the history of the blog. I had a willing assistant who did the mashing while I snapped away. I could definitely get used to this. Have your assistant place the fried round of plantain on the tostonera.

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Bring down the lid and smash it into submission!

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Okay that's just a joke. Gently press the tostonera until the plantain is about 1/4" thick.

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Voila! Le plantaine! Can you tell I'm itching to watch Julie & Julia? Here in all its quilty diamond studded goodness is a toston.

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Repeat until you've mashed all the rounds. I'm very proud of my assistant. I had to step away from the kitchen for a moment to help his younger brother and before I left I arranged three tostones in the beginning of this pinwheel. I told him to continue mashing and when I returned, he had finished them all and artfully continued the arrangement.

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Gratuitous action shot of the assistant for Abuela, who was so proud to hear that the tradition continues for one more generation.

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All right, enough momma gloating. So you have a plate full of smashed plantains ready for the final step. More frying. This time, raise the heat to high and fry the tostones for about a minute or two until crispy and slightly more golden.

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Immediately after you drain the tostones from the hot oil, season them with salt and garlic powder. Traditionally, my mom would cover the parfried tostones with a garlic salt water to soak in the goodness while she prepped the rest of the meal. By the time dinner was ready, the tostones had a garlicky bite to them that survived the second frying. I'm lazy and prone to ADD, so salt and garlic powder it is.

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This is where the magic happens. Lift up a crispy toston and examine the geography closely. Crispy outer edges, lightly golden brown crust, dusted gently with seasoning.

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Take a bite. The crispy exterior gives way to a tender and earthy center. I dare you not to lick your fingers before you pick up another. Of course, you can eat the tostones by themselves OR you can fry up a couple of eggs in some hot oil and have what I consider to be the best Dominican breakfast ever.

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