Technique Post: Tostones (Fried Plantains)

This is my variation on the classic Cuban side dish and appetizer, tostones. It's a pretty straightforward recipe - cut and peel green plantain bananas, fry them until tender, smash, and fry them again. This leaves a lot of room for variation, though, so here is the series of steps I've found works the best and produces the most crowd-pleasing result.

You'll need:
  • Ripe plantains (the greener, the better)
  • Oil for frying (I prefer vegetable or canola)
  • Salt

Start with a green plantain. Plantains are a type of banana, but not a direct substitute. Plantains are starchier, so their use is more like a root vegetable - like the Latin American staples of yucca or malanga - and less like a regular banana we'd get at the store. You can use it like you would a potato in stew. When it's green, it's less sweet than the fully ripe ones, and well-suited for savory recipes. If you leave it on the counter a longer time, it turns yellow with more and more brown and black spots - plantains at this stage are called maduros (Spanish for "ripe") and are used for a sweet plantain side dish that I'll feature later. If you use maduros to make tostones, it will not work - so be sure to find some green ones!

Take the green plantain, a sharp knife for slicing like a santoku, and a chopping board. We'll start by cutting the ends off.

Now cut it into three pieces, about 2 inches long. This is a good starting point for an average sized banana, and makes for easier peeling.

Take a knife and cut along one side of the plantain - then it will easily peel off the rest of the way. I've recorded a video of me doing it so you can see how it looks. When you're first trying this, you might take off more of the actual banana than you want to in order to get rid of the peel - that's fine! You'll get used to it.

Here is a link to my tutorial video on the Flan & Simple YouTube channel, if you want to see it in action.

Now that it's peeled, cut each piece into  two slices so you have six pieces of about an inch.

Put the oil on the stove to fill a pan about halfway like in the picture. I usually add a tiny piece of plantain as a sacrifice, and when it sizzles and floats, we're ready to add the plantains.

Add them all and stand them up on the end with a fork - you'll flip them halfway through, and for the size we're using in this walk thru, you'll fry them about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Flip it with a fork so you can stand it up on its other end.

While that's going, let's talk about how we're gonna smash these dudes.

On the right, I have a tostonera (literally a "tostones maker"). Sometimes they come with an indentation so that you get a uniform shape when you smash it - I did some light finagling to reverse that so I wouldn't have the mold shape. If you buy one, don't get the really thick tostoneras that create a plantain "cup" either. I linked above to a place to buy them on Etsy, but you can get them at Walmart or Amazon in a pinch.

No tostonera? Put aluminum foil on a can and just press down on the tender plantain with it. I recommend spraying cooking spray on the bottom so it doesn't stick.

I select one plantain to remove from oil first as a kind of sacrifice. If it's ready, I take the rest out for smashing - if it's not, I can leave the others frying longer. This is what a plantain looks like if you smash it when it has not been fried long enough:

Incorrect! If it's ready, it'll be easy to smash like the one below:

No tough spots that refused to smash, and totally even in how tender it is. Since that one's ready, turn off the stove, then take the rest out and set them on a paper towel to drain a bit while you proceed to smash them all.

Here's one I smashed with the can - look how even it is! It doesn't tend to get quite as flat (and therefore, not as crispy after the second fry), but it looks nice and absolutely does the trick.

You can stop at this point and leave them to the side all day if you want. But the important thing is, you don't want to do the final fry too early or they'll get soggy just sitting there. Do all the other cooking you're going to, like if this is the side dish for a casserole or stew, then put the oil back on the burner and get the plantains ready to finish.

When the oil is ready, add the plantains, about 3 or 4 to a batch, making sure they don't overlap so that everything fries evenly.

They only need a minute or two per side this time since they're so much thinner. Flip them with a form and you'll see that the bottom side is brown and toasty.

Then remove to a pan that has paper towels on it, to drain, and salt it! Salt it immediately so there is still oil on it that the salt can stick to. If you are frying in batches, salt them before you put the new batch in the pan. And salt liberally. Some people serve tostones with garlic sauce or mojo - this is what you'll see a lot in restaurants - but I love it with just salt. Then you can use it to sop up sauce in the meal, like you would with bread.

Let me know if you try it!!

Suggested Soundtrack: "Bandida" by Elvis Crespo