[Editor's Note: Please give an extra-warm welcome to Juan Duque and his new monthly column, Panama City Cooking! -Max]
Panama City Cooking 01: Patacones
December 23rd, 2009
by Juan Duque
They say Panama is the heart of the universe, the crossroads of the Americas, and even the bridge of the world. You can definitely see that reflected in our food, since you’ll be able to find dishes with heavy influences from pretty much anywhere around the world. Our geographical position is a big part of why this has happened, with the Panama Canal being the main reason we’re basically a huge melting pot of cultures when it comes to food.
My name’s Juan and I’ll be writing a monthly column here at Beach City Cooking about pretty much anything related to food in Panama. This will be a learning experience for me because if I’m being honest, I’m not great at cooking! I do love food, and although sometimes I neglect it, I enjoy our traditional dishes very much. So you’ll probably see me falling in love with certain foods all over again, as I revisit them for the first time in months (or even years!).
But for this first one, it won’t be necessary. I already take this one on dates pretty often, and I’d even dare to call it love. I’m talking about patacones.
This (not so healthy) side dish is a part of probably every single Panamanian’s life. Really, go to any traditional Panamanian restaurant or even an Italian restaurant if you want (or pretty much any restaurant), and you’ll be able to order patacones as a side dish. Their ubiquitousness can’t be overstated, they’re everywhere!
Patacones are fried plantains, also known as tostones in other countries. The basic recipe is the same almost everywhere, with some countries making variations in the shape (like giving it a cup shape, so you can put cream cheese, sauce or whatever you like inside). There’s a few differences in how to eat them when they’re done, ranging from using ketchup, to dipping them in salsa, or just using salt.
I’ll show you the traditional way they’re done in Panama, which is just the patacones with a little salt added. You can eat this with any type of meat you like. Oh and eating a salad on the side wouldn’t hurt.
You’ll need unripe plantains for this. They’re the green ones. They’re pretty cheap here.
I bought two of them, but decided to use another one I had in the fridge. This is something I would regret in the future.
You’ll need a large saucepan (we call them “paila” here), or any deep frying pan, and some oil. I prefer sunflower or canola oil. Just don’t use olive oil, or you won’t be able to get them nice and crispy!
Make sure to use enough oil so that when you put in the sliced plantains, they’ll be mostly covered with oil. Turn the heat to medium-high.
While that’s going on, make sure to wash the plantains before using them. And dry them.
Now you’re gonna have to cut both ends of the plantain, that way it’ll be a lot easier to peel. I don’t really recommend doing this if you just took it out of the fridge, though. It’s much harder. You should let them stand at room temperature for a little while. Slit the peel along one of the lines, and then it’ll be pretty easy to just remove it.
As you can see I had a hard time initially, but I blame the knife! As soon as I started using my BergHOFF knife, it went smoothly. Observe:
Now, I know they sorta look like bananas, but trust me, don’t eat them! They’ll taste pretty nasty at this point, and you won’t be able to get ride of the taste for a while. You’ll have to cut them in thick slices now. Not too thick, though, unless you want really big patacones.
Now carefully put the slices in the oil in batches, and leave them there until they’re a little yellow (not golden). You can flip them so they’re cooked evenly.
Use either a plate or a flat surface with a paper towel to put the slices on.
Remove the slices from the oil. You can use a slotted spoon like I did, or whatever utensil will allow you to pick them up without grabbing excess oil, like a spider.
Now the fun part: Flatten those suckers! But be careful not to do it too hard. You can use a wood mortar, or any other flat object. I used this plantain press. At least, that’s what I think it is. I just found it here.
Beautiful! At this point I realized I had too many slices. Luckily you can freeze them after the first frying, so they can be used later. I froze one batch. You can add a little salt at this point. It all depends on how you wanna do it, though. Some people prefer to add the salt before the first frying, others when it’s completely done. It’s up to you!
It’s time to fry them again. You can tell this is a very healthy dish. Just leave them there for a very short time, just to get them as crispy as you like, and take them out. My first batch got a little too crispy and golden, but it was still okay.
And there you go, take them out and they’re ready to be eaten! You can still add ketchup or whatever salsa you like. I prefer them without any type of sauce, because they’re delicious just like this. You can also try doing sweet patacones, with plantains that are a little riper (but not completely).
I hope you enjoyed the first installment of Panama City Cooking! See you again next month.
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