Patacones, sometimes also called tostones, are a traditional dish eaten throughout much of Latin America and the Caribbean. Made of twice fried plantains and your choice of toppings, this dish can be intimidating to approach, but it doesn’t have to be. With just a little bit of practice, you can easily impress your friends with this savory Costa Rican dish.
The first thing to realize about patacones is that they, like much traditional food, are made without a recipe. There probably was no old family recipe, and even if there was it’s long been lost to time. Instead, intuition and practice inform the technique.Here at Tico Lingo, our house grandmother Yamileth, who within 5 minutes of meeting me told me I’d been washing dishes wrong my whole life and proceeded to take 15 minutes to teach me the proper way that her grandmother taught her, doesn’t have a recipe for patacones and has never used one. In my research for this article I asked her “How long do you fry the plantains?” She said “I don’t know, until they’re ready.” Responding to “How hot should the oil be?”, “As hot as it gets. Look.” she said pointing at the faded dial of the deep fryer.
Perhaps I’ve committed a cardinal sin by attempting to write down something better learned through the oral tradition; it was Goethe who said sin writes histories, goodness is silent. Nevertheless, I’ve made an attempt here, and with a little trial and error, you too can learn to make patacones the old fashioned way.
The first step is acquiring plantains. Patacones are made with green plantains, meaning the plantains should not be ripe yet. Ripe plantains are sweeter and patacones are meant to be a savory dish. Once you have the plantains, chop them into thirds and peel them. Plantains have tougher peels than bananas and you may need to make slit lengthwise with a knife.
Once peeled, place the plantain segments in batches of 2 or 3 into hot oil and fry until lightly brown, this should take about 3-5 minutes. You can fry the plantains in a deep fryer if you have one, but you can just as easily do it in a pot. If you have a deep fryer or a candy thermometer, the oil can be heated to 375ºF (190ºC). If not, put enough oil to submerge the plantains in a sturdy pot on medium high heat and wait about 5 minutes for it to heat up. It does not need to be exact.
Once removed from the oil, place the plantains on a drying rack or on a plate with some paper towels.
The next step is flattening the plantains. Traditionally this is done with a specific tool called a pataconera or a tortilla press. You can also do it with a cutting board or large pot. You’ll need two pieces of plastic or a large piece of plastic folded in half. A Ziploc bag or leftover packaging from a loaf of bread or a pack of store bought tortillas would work quite well. This prevents the plantains from sticking to the wood or metal, which absolutely will happen if you don’t use plastic.
Put a segment of plantain between the two pieces of plastic and push down with your chosen tool. It will take some force. The result should be a sort of thin patty. Make sure it’s good and flat, the same thickness throughout. Repeat with all the plantains.
Once you have the smashed plantains ready, you can put them back in the oil and fry 2-3 minutes per side or until they’re crispy. Remove from the oil and let dry again.
You can serve them plain with just a bit of salt as a snack or as a side dish, but patacones can be served in a variety of more interesting ways. You can do a sort of taco bar type situation, where each person decides on their own toppings and preps their own, the patacone serving the function of the tortilla. Lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, refried beans, ground beef or other meat, guacamole and sour cream are some potential toppings. I’ve even seen sandwiches or burgers made using patacones as the bread. The possibilities are endless.
*Green Plantains (unripe) (1 plantain=3 patacones)
*Whatever toppings your heart desires
1. Cut plantains into thirds and peel
2. Fry in neutral oil until lightly brown (3-5 minutes)
3. Remove and let dry
4. Smash into patties (remember to put plantain between plastic)
5. Fry approx. 2 minutes per side until crispy
6. Remove and let dry
7. Serve with chosen toppings