Growing up and even now, I am often asked to explain the difference between a plantain and a banana. A banana (guineo) is a fruit and eaten as such, while the plantain (plátano) must be cooked like a vegetable before consumption and can be served in both savory and sweet applications. The plátano is an essential ingredient in many Latino households,-in the same way a potato is a kitchen staple in other cultures.
Which do you prefer, Tostones or Maduros?
This question is at the heart of one of the oldest debates that has plagued Latino homes!
The plátano is a large green, un-ripened plantain. A plátano is used to make many Latino dishes and can be steamed, baked, or broiled, but to make tostones, the plantains are fried. Tostones are a savory, starchy side dish. Tp make tostones, the platáno is peeled, cut on a diagonal angle into ovals, and fried, not once but twice, in canola oil. They can be served plain, topped with mojito (garlic sauce) or topped with ketchup. Twice fried plantains are also the base of the ‘Jibarito’ sandwich made famous in Chicago, but that’s will have to wait for another recipe story!
When the plátano is ripened it turns yellow, like a banana, and becomes sweet to the taste. To make maduros (aka plátanos maduros), the sweet plantains are cut down the center of the plantain, from top-to-bottom and then cut evenly into 4 pieces. They are also fried (but only once) and serve as the perfect partner for rice and beans or to provide a nice touch of sweetness to a dish.
I am a firm believer everything is better with garlic (and butter) and I do love a good platter of tostones topped with mojito. They are a labor of love and I will make them upon request for my family, however, between the two variations of plantains my absolute favorite is the maduro version. Something about the sweet taste of the plantains reminds me of sitting at a dinner table in Old San Juan or at the dining room table surrounded by family.
Pleasant food memories are powerful and plátanos maduros are filled with sweet memories for me.
I urge you to try both and let me know what you think—we’ll post a poll to see who will win this debate!
To make Tostones:
- 2 green plantains
- Canola oil for frying.
Peel the plantains (this can be tricky; try scoring the skin in sections and peeling it by sections) and cut the plantain into 1-inch chunks. Pour canola oil into a heavy bottomed pan to a depth of 2-inches. Heat the oil to 375 degrees or until a bread cube sizzles on contact.
Place 12 plantain slices in the oil and fry, flipping occasionally, until just starting to to turn brown (2-3 minutes). Remove to paper towels and drain. Cover the fried plantains with a piece of parchment and smash the plantains with the back of a pot until flattened to 1/4″.
Return the smashed plantains to the oil and continue frying until golden brown and beginning to crisp up. Remove tostones from oil and place on paper towels. Season immediately with salt. Serve at once with ketchup or mojito.
To make Maduros:
- 2 ripe plantains; yellow verging on brown to black
- Canola oil for frying
Peel the plantains and cut them in half length-wise. Cut each half in two.
Pour oil to a depth of 1/2 inch into a heavy bottomed skillet. Heat oil to 375 degrees or until a bread cube sizzles on contact. Add the plantains to the oil and fry them, turning gently, until softened and golden brown-about 2 minutes. Take care to reduce the heat as needed as sugars in ripe plantains caramelize quickly.
Here’s a bonus recipe (just for reading):
Mojito – Garlic Dipping Sauce
- 1 head of garlic, peeled/crushed
- 1 small onion – finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons of cilantro, finely chopped
- ½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
Put all ingredients (except cilantro) into a mortar and crush into a rough paste with pestle. Add salt and pepper to adjust taste and add cilantro and crush while grinding in a circular motion. Transfer to a non-porous serving dish. [NOTE: To mix in a blender or food processor: Add garlic, salt and cilantro and pulse to combine, taking care not to overblend. Add the oil in a thin stream and blend until emulsified.]