September 11, 2009
Stephanie had an African-American father and a Puerto-Rican mother, and taught me how to make tostones, twice-fried, salty plantains. By luck of the subletting draw, I was her roommate for six weeks one summer in D.C., and I still remember her frying up a storm in our tiny Columbia Heights kitchen. I stood with Jill, who was visiting for July fourth, over a paper-towel lined plate, waiting eagerly for the next finished batch and crowding our good-natured cook.
Plantains had never been presented to me this way before, with a crust of toothy resistance on the outside and smooth goodness on the inside. Though I lost touch with Stephanie soon after my sublet was up, I still make tostones the way I learned from her—frying once, then smashing each slice inside a Ziploc bag with the back of a water glass before returning it to the hot oil a second time. A generous sprinkling of salt, and there is arguably no better accompaniment for a cold beer on a hot day.
Is anything more universally satisfying than fried food? Is there a single human culture that has yet to discover the joys of dropping, well, just about anything into a pot of scalding-hot oil? The French, of course, have given us their pommes frites, our beloved fries. Japan is the home of everything tempura-battered, and samosas are now ubiquitous at Indian restaurants. Italians perfected the art of frying baby artichokes and succulent rings of calamari, and Southern fried chicken is a near-universal craving. As my mother in one of her cruder moments put it, you could probably fry shit and it would taste good.
I must make a confession. I’ve become one of *those* people. Those people who structure their entire fall around a televised game schedule, who politely decline invitations that conflict with home games, who scream and yell for a bunch of guys running around on a well-tended field of turf. I’ve crossed over to the dark side now. I’m officially a football fan.
My father did his best to cultivate my appreciation for the sport when I was younger, so I at least had a basic sense for how to watch the game. But football never “clicked” with me until last year. Jill and Sonya, who have long been avid fans of the game, played fantasy football for the first time. And when I say played, I mean became obsessed with. While their team, the Junky Cowboys (not a comment on the state of Dallas’ team, rather an inside joke resulting from confusion over the band name, Cowboy Junkies) didn’t win the league championship (still a sore subject), fantasy football became the vehicle through which I learned to love football.
It’s a famous joke that football is the most widely-practiced religion down here in Texas—I think that’s probably true. We have our rituals, our superstitions, our weekly gatherings, a shared sense of purpose, and our foods. On Sunday around noon, while Jill and Sonya are obsessing over stats and lineups, I’m usually messing around in the kitchen, whipping up something to snack on over the course of the afternoon. All of that screaming at the TV works up an appetite, you know.
So the Feelin’ Kinda Sunday Series will feature various football snacks, from the savory to the sweet, that have been met with success in my NFL-happy household. Every Friday from now until the Super Bowl, I’ll share recipes that will translate easily to the weekend. Even if your house is not a football house, I think you’ll be able to find a place for these goodies. As always, we’ll feature a random-but-seasonally-appropriate smattering of posts on Tuesdays–coming up next week, Part II of Anders Wine Tasting Basics & some really, really good cookies.
In the meantime, I’m curious, Blue Jean Gourmet readers, are you into football? And what’s your favorite thing to eat fried?
TOSTONES (twice-fried, salty plantains)
These are Sonya’s absolute favorites; I try to make them regularly so as to keep bribing her into taking gorgeous pictures for me! While a bit time-consuming to make, tostones are totally worth it. If you are not using to frying things at home, don’t be intimidated–these don’t require all that much oil, and are pretty forgiving. While they’re lovely plain, we also L-O-V-E them dipped in guacamole.
Plantains are part of the banana family, but contain much more starch, like a potato. If the idea of a fried banana wigs you out, don’t worry, I feel you. These taste far milder and fry up beautifully–a perfect crunch on the outside, with a creamy give on the inside. Look for plantains that are ripe (yellow with a few brown spots) but still firm.
canola or a similarly-flavorless vegetable oil
To peel the plantains, slice off both ends with a sharp knife. Then run your knife down the length of each plantain (don’t cut too deep!), front and back. Remove the peel. Cut each plantain into thick slices, about ½ inch thick. Genly press the slices between paper towels to remove excess moisture.
Cover the bottom of a heavy skillet with a shallow (¼ inch) pool of oil. Heat on medium-high until the oil is shimmering–test it with a plantain–if the oil immediately bubbles around the slice, it’s ready. You may need to adjust the temperature of the oil as you go, if your plantains are taking too long or, conversely, getting too brown.
Fry the plantains in batches until they are light brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate while finishing. Turn the heat down on the oil while you smash the plantains. To smash, simply place each plantain (you can do a few at a time) inside a Ziploc bag and smush with the bottom of a heavy glass.
Once all of the plantains have been smashed, re-heat your oil for a second frying. Because the second round of plantains will be thinner, I recommend you heat your oil a bit less–say, if your stove was at a “7” the first time around, turn it down to a “5.”
Fry the plantains, once again in batches, until golden brown. Serve hot, sprinkled with coarse salt.