Recently, I wrote about making carne asada, the fixture of almost every Cuban celebration. I have written about other essential components, like flan and rice and beans. But I’ve neglected one important dish that is almost always part of everyday Cuban life: tostones. They’re fried savory plantains, the Cuban equivalent of French fries. If you eat them hot, straight out of the fryer, seasoned with a little garlic and salt, you might forget that French fries even exist.
The other benefit is that bananas are healthier than potatoes. Bananas of all kinds are one of the few fruits that you can reliably find in Cuba. The different varieties of bananas confound me; there are different varieties of both cooking bananas and bananas that are eaten raw as fruit. There are purplish-brown “Indian” bananas that are not eaten at all, but used in worship for Santeria, an African-Catholic folk religion.
For this recipe, Cubans use either platanos machos (yellow plantains) before they ripen too much or platanos burro, which are green plantains that are slightly fatter and shorter. If you can only find regular yellow Chiquita-type bananas, you can use those too — just fry them while they’re still hard and green.
Tostones (Savory Fried Plantains)
6 plantains or unripe green bananas
4-5 cups vegetable or canola oil
Sea salt or kosher salt to taste
Several cloves of garlic, finely minced
Peel the bananas and slice them at a diagonal angle, about 3/4-inch thick. Pour the oil into a large pot over high heat and immediately add the bananas. Cook for 10-15 minutes until they turn golden. Strain through a slotted spoon, turn off the heat, and place them on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Let them cool for a few minutes, then with the back of a fork or a potato masher, press them down gently so they are about 1/2 inch thick. Let the oil heat again and wait 3-4 minutes until the oil is hot (about 375 degrees). Put the bananas back in the oil, taking care to avoid splashes. Fry them for 4-5 minutes until crisp, strain through a slotted spoon, turn off the heat, and place them on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Sprinkle them with salt and garlic and serve immediately.