Panamanian Fusion Cuisine.
Patacones: A Panamanian staple
While living in Panama, one of my favorite, staple vegetables, the potato, was pushed to the sideline as a new star made its appearance in my kitchen: the plantain. Panamanian fried green plantain is called Patacones and it is DEELICIOUS. Brother (or sister?) of the much loved banana, the plantain is not as used in North American cuisine and all I have to say is why the hell not? The main advantage over the banana, in my opinion, is that it can be used for both savoury and sweet dishes. I can almost hear some people thinking “Salty banana? No thank you” but hold on a minute and give it a chance. Let me explain.
This particular episode happened because I wanted to share this wonderful discovery of mine with Lex, as he had never had green plantain before, and top it with his favorite seafood dish: salmon tartare. In Panama, fried green plantain is used as a side dish in a similar way as french fries are used in North America: meaning served with almost anything and in large quantities. What I didn’t know was how the story of the creation of this recipe would unfold.
The hunt for green plantain
In order to savor a salty plantain snack, you have to get your plantains before they are ripe, when they are as green as you can get them. This, I have discovered, is not an easy task in Canada. I suddenly found myself on a quest, a quest for large green ‘bananas’. The first grocery store I tried only had very ripe, yellow plantain. While still delicious, not what we were looking for. Onward we went. After a seemingly endless tour of my neighborhood’s many produce markets, we found an Asian market that seemed to have a steady supply of them, as well as a wide variety of tropical goodies unknown to me all under the very specific label: vegetable. Thanks guys, that really helps. Now that we found these green gems, it was time to prep them for their front-stage appearance.
One of my most awaited for days of the week in Panama was our weekly potlucks in the middle of the road. Picture this, a group of 26 exchange students dragging folding tables to the middle of a (semi) closed off road to share a meal together. Our Panamanian friends thought we were insane, but partook in our madness, making sure we didn’t mess up the preparation of their famed fried plantain: patacones.
Preparing the plantain
The first step, so we were taught, was to of course remove the peel. However, unlike with ripe bananas, you had to use a knife to chop off the ends and slice their bellies open, trying to remove the peel in the least amount of pieces as possible. I then watched, amazed, at how they continued the ritual by chopping the unripe fruit into four larger disks mid-air and letting them fall into a large bowl. The next step they explained, was letting these dismembered plantain soak in very salty water for an hour or so. AN HOUR? I suddenly understood why all of their dinner parties started so late.
Let the frying begin.
After an endless wait, the plantain had soaked enough and was ready to be fried, not once, but twice. Yes yes, we fry them twice. Using paper towel, or a dishtowel, we first soaked up any excess water to avoid a shower of hot oil once it hit the surface. Making sure the oil is really hot, we deep fry the plantain disks until the pinkish middles become yellow. A mistake I still make is overcooking them until they are brown, a big no no. Remove them from the oil and try to drain off the dripping oil with a mesh strainer. The next step is SQUASHING them with a flat surface, this could be… a glass, a mug or my boobs after shedding a few pounds -_- , making flat plantain disks. Salt them. Then comes frying numba two. This time, watch those golden disks carefully, they will fry real fast! Once they’re nice and crispy, salt generously! We only use REAL salt, meaning either Himalayan Salt Coarse Crystals or Coarse sea salt. We use the pink Himalayan as much as possible because of its mineral content.
So, of course, these things are best when fresh, so PLEASE don’t do like we often do and get so excited about the patacones that we forget to make the tartare ahead of time. These yummy disks are great as a replacement for chips with guacamole, salsa, refried beans… the list goes on.
Below you will find the recipe for the salmon tartare topped patacones as an appetizer, easily double (or triple..) up the recipe for bigger groups or bigger appetites!
Recipe – Minty Salmon Tartare on Fried Green Plantain Patacones
Makes 4 hors d’oeuvres
- 150g of fresh diced sushi-grade salmon
- 1/4 tsp Himalayan Salt Hickory Smoked
- 1 garlic clove
- 3 mint leaves + a few for decoration
- ¼ tsp Organic Peppercorns Black Tellicherry
- One dry shallot
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp water
- Chop the shallot, garlic and mint leaves. Let the shallots soak in the white wine vinegar and set aside;
- Dice the salmon into delicate pieces, making sure to keep the fish cold by keeping the diced fish in a bowl resting on ice. Once the fish is completely diced, cover and place in the fridge until needed;
- Drain the liquid from your shallots;
- Take out the diced salmon and mix in all ingredients (garlic, mint, tellicherry pepper, smoked salt and marinated shallots);
- Cover again and place back in fridge;
- 1 green plantain
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups of any mild vegetable oil (for frying)
- Remove the peel from the green plantain and cut into 4 equal sized pieces width-wise;
- Let the plantain soak in salt water while preparing the tartare;
- Drain your plantain and place on a paper towel to absorb excess water;
- In a deep-set pan, heat the vegetable oil on medium-high heat until it pops when you sprinkle a few drops of water into it;
- Place the pieces of plantain in the oil and fry until the center goes from pinkish to yellow, making sure to fry both sides equally;
- Remove the plantain from the oil and use a metal mesh strainer to drain excess oil;
- Lower the heat of the oil to avoid burning it and let the fried plantain cool for a few minutes;
- With a flat bottom cup (ceramic or glass is best) flatten the fried plantain pieces to form a disk-like shape. If the plantain sticks to the cup, use a knife to detach it in order to avoid breaking the shape;
- Increase the heat of the oil and place the plantain disks into the oil for a second time, flipping them to ensure both sides are equally fried. They will fry very quickly since it is their second round so be careful;
- Remove the plantain from the oil and use the metal mesh strainer to remove excess oil once again;
- Sprinkle the fried plantain with salt and voila, you have made patacones!
Putting it all together
- Take a generous spoonful of the tartare and place on the center of your fried plantain and decorate with a small mint leaf;
- Serve immediately to ensure the patacone is still hot and the tartare is still cold.
Have you tried it? Let us know what you think in the comments below!