Tostones are one of the first dishes I ever learned how to cook. The salty, crunchy, twice-fried plantains have always been a staple in my Puerto Rican family’s repertoire, accompanying our meals as a side dish, fried up on a whim as a quick snack, or served hot out of the oil in large batches to share with family and friends during parties.
It’s one of those recipes that is more about technique than anything else.
The recipe for tostones calls for just three ingredients — green plantains, oil and salt. It's super simple, but using the right stage of plantain is key. Like their banana cousins, plantains completely transform in flavor and texture as they ripen. They start off a bright lime green on the outside, and starchy and savory on the inside, but as time passes and the plantain ripens, enzymes in the fruit break the starches down into sugar. As this occurs, the peel first changes from that bright green to a deeper and deeper shade of yellow, then develops increasingly dark spots until it reaches its ripest stage, when the peel is fully black and the fruit inside is honey sweet and meltingly tender.
Unlike other fruit that tends to shine at one stage of ripeness or another, plantains can lead to glorious dishes at every level. The early starchy green plantains are ideal for making savory dishes like crispy tostones, garlicky mofongo or thin and crunchy plantain chips. The in-between yellow plantains are a little sweeter with a softer structure that can be stuffed and baked or grilled, boiled and mashed, or even sliced and used in dishes like a layered pastelón.
And once the plantains are nearly fully black and ripe, the tender fruit can be used for desserts like plantain ice cream or cake but is most frequently served sliced and fried in butter as the caramel-sweet side dish maduros, a name which literally means "ripe ones" in Spanish.
I love plantains at every stage of the game, but it’s the salty, savory tostones that are my forever favorite. Making them is relatively simple. The hardest step is usually peeling the green plantains. At the starchy stage, the peel is thick and hard and requires a little effort to remove.
The quickest way to do it is to slice off both ends, then run a paring knife lengthwise down the back doing your best to cut only into the skin. Run your thumb through the opening and wedge it between the peel and fruit and push the peel out and off, essentially unwrapping the plantain, rather than peeling down the way you would with a banana. From there, a paring knife or peeler can be used to take off any tiny bits of peel that cling and remain.
Note that plantain peel can actually stain fingertips and clothing, leaving a stubborn dark mark that is so legendary it's taken on myth and meaning of its very own. In Spanish, the phrase "mancha de plátano" (plantain stain) refers both literally to the stains caused by plantains, and figuratively to the indelible mark that Puerto Rico leaves on the heart of its people.
The technique that makes tostones special is the double fry. The peeled plantain is sliced thickly on the bias then fried for a couple minutes in hot oil, smashed flat and then fried again. The smash and second fry expand the surface area creating lots of little craggy bits that crisp up beautifully in the hot oil and are what gives tostones their trademark crispy crunchy texture. At home, I always smash the partially fried plantains with the bottom of a glass, sometimes dipped in water or spritzed with oil to keep them from sticking. There is also a device called a tostonera, a plantain press that’s designed with a handle and a hinged flap to smash the plantains into perfect circles.
Once the tostones are crispy hot out of the oil, all they need is a generous sprinkle of salt before serving. In Puerto Rico, tostones are generally served with one of two dipping sauces — either an herby garlic and citrus dip called mojo, or the local favorite, mayo-ketchup — an aptly named combo of (obviously) mayo and ketchup. You can also use them as the base for canapés and top them with pulled pork, ceviche or dollops of guacamole.
Like most fried foods, these are best enjoyed within minutes (or even seconds!) of making them. In fact, some of my best memories are from lingering around in the kitchen waiting as my mom or grandmother would pull them crispy out of the oil so that we could immediately grab them to enjoy.
For the tostones:1.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven until it reaches 325 F.2.
While the oil heats, peel the plantains and cut on the bias (at an angle) into 2-inch-thick slices.3.
Fry the plantains in batches for about 3 minutes or until crisp and pale yellow. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper-towel lined baking sheets. Repeat with rest of plantains.4.
Spread a piece of parchment paper on a cutting board. Take one of the still-warm fried plantains and place on the paper, smash flat with the bottom of a glass. Repeat with the rest of the plantains.5.
Bring another batch of oil to 325 F and return the smashed plantains to the oil for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden and crisp.6.
Drain on paper towel, season generously with salt and serve hot.
For the mayo-ketchup:
Whisk all ingredients until smooth. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, up to 5 days.