Unwrap for a Reward


Longtime readers may recall Ropa Vieja, Cuba’s signature dish, requires considerable prep work (i.e., time) to impart its succulence.  This is a common theme in Cuban cuisine, which rewards culinary effort with a trip straight to vibrant tropical shores.  Certainly, getting to the shrimp and the plantains which make up today’s entrees, Camarones Enchilados and Tostones, respectively, takes some doing.

Particularly for the plantains.  As anyone who’s worked with the fruit knows, plantains may look familiar, but their starchy nature (texture and taste halfway between that of the potato and the “regular” banana) makes them much more challenging to peel.  Fortunately, Three Guys from Miami offers advice on accomplishing this tricky task, as well as a recipe for making tostones, Cuba’s much more sophisticated version of the tater tot.  Here are the plantains you see above, before they became tostones:Plantains 2

¡Ay, Plátanos!

After the plantains are peeled, they’re cut into 1-inch lengths, then are fried briefly to soften them.  Next, they’re flattened into thick disks, which are deep-fried again until they’re golden-brown and lightly crispy on the outside. As mentioned, they’re somewhat similar to tater tots, but are a bit creamier and sweeter.

The shrimps are cooked in a well-seasoned tomato sauce, which makes them similar to the shrimp creole developed in Louisiana, on other side of the Gulf of Mexico.  What makes today’s take uniquely Cuban, however, is adding pimentos, white wine vinegar and, of course, white wine.

Details appear in A Sassy Spoon, wherein the author remembers Camarones Enchilados as being a fragrant part of her childhood, reserved for special occasions.  Though the author grew up in Florida as part of the large and lively exile community around Miami, her heritage is Cuban, and her mother took recipes wither her when she made a new home in Florida.

Actually, both of today’s recipes are “Miami” takes on Cuban favorites, though most of the cooks involved (two of the “Three Guys” and the Sassy Spoon’s mother) were born in Cuba and fled with their families only later.  It took some trouble to get the recipes to us, just as the ingredients aren’t always easy (referring to you, plantains), but the results brought to the plate are worth the difficulty, a flavorful taste of a happier Cuba.

*****

Tostones

(Cuban Fried Plantains)

  • 2 large green plantains, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices (*1)
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil (*2)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, to taste (*3)

Set a large skillet over a medium-high flame and add the oil.  When the oil reaches 300 degrees, fry the plantain slices for five minutes, turning once, until they soften.  Remove the plantains to a plate lined with paper towels.

Once the plantains are just cool enough to handle, use a plantain press or a paper bag folded over (*4) to smash them into disks approximately 1/2-inch thick.

Increase the flame under the oil to bring it to 375 degrees.  Fry the plantains once again, turning occasionally, until they’re golden-brown on both sides, about five minutes.

Replace the paper towels on the plate and remove the plantains to them.  Once the towels wick away some of the oil, season the tostones generously and serve.

NOTES:

1 – The best way to peel them?  Cut off both ends with a sharp knife. You’ll want to remove most of the tapered ends, and use mainly the middle length, which is of uniform width.  Selecting the perpendicular facet which is least curved, use the same sharp knife to slice away a strip down the plantain’s entire length.  From there, work your fingers beneath the remaining peel and separate it from the fruit.

2 – Vegetable oil works well, though I selected peanut oil for a taste more complimentary to deep frying.

3 – Instead of using “plain” salt or garlic salt, as the original recipe suggests, I made my own “garlic salt” by mixing a tablespoon each of chopped garlic, sea salt, and minced cilantro.  More flavorful than what comes pre-packaged.

4 – I went even less specific than that and used a wide, flat-bottomed juice glass.  Real classy, huh?  Maybe not, though it worked well.

*****

Camarones Enchilados

(Cuban Deviled Shrimp)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped (*5)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup pimentos, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon parsley, chopped (*6)
  • 1 12-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup white wine (*7)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  •  salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste

Set a large skillet over a medium flame.  Pour in the oil.  Once it shimmers, add the onion and garlic.  Cook for three minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the shrimp and saute for two minutes, just until they start turning white.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.  When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the flame to low and cover the skillet.  Simmer for twenty minutes and srve over rice.

NOTES:

5 – You expected me to substitute something for the onion.  How about a pumpkin?  Nope, I went with a medium shallot.

6 –  Replaced parsley with cilantro.  For one thing, I already used part of a bunch to season the tostones, and…waste not, want not.  More important, cilantro is less strident and is much less bitter than is parsley.

7 – If you don’t have bottle of already uncorked white wine as I did, a similar quantity of vegetable stock also will do the job.

26 thoughts on “Unwrap for a Reward

    1. Thanks much, Mar! So glad to hear from you again.

      There are many recipes in the months ahead (and in the years ahead too) I’m eager for you to see. Sure, I think they’ll stand on their own merits, and I would’ve tried them regardless, but I love it when others notice them too. How’s the cliché go? Happiness shared is happiness doubled?

      Totstones and Ropa Vieja are among my favorites too, and not just within Latin cuisine. Among any cuisine, period. Even if I relied on a heavy juice glass to form the tostones!

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    1. Plus, for you, JoAnn, they’re local. Well, local to the broader geographic region anyway. In other words, you’ve had many opportunities to give plantains a shot.

      For me, they’re palatable mainly because I managed my expectations. I knew going in they weren’t going to be sweet like bananas, thus they didn’t disappoint when they weren’t. Kind of like a jicama in reverse, if you ever tried that.

      You never would expect something that looks like a potato, and which is nicknamed “the Mexican turnip” to be sweet-ish, but a jicama is. Not quite apple-sweet, but in that general direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Nice. And yes, I definitely expected a substitute for that onion. Didn’t expect you to suggest a pumpkin though… Of course, I would totally be willing to try that. And, quite possibly regret it as well.

    Happy New Year, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rachel – you too!

      Onions threw you for a loop, huh? An encouraging development, as it means you’ve passed the first milestone in Being Felix.

      None of the other alliums trouble me, see? Leeks, scallions, garlic, shallots…all okay in my book. I even savor ramps periodically. Yet, let one onion get in there, and you have chaos in the kitchen. Just when you think you’ve discerned a pattern, and you zig, onions zag.

      What crafty, devious bulbs!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, your broadmindedness deserves acclaim, Tamara. Thank you!

      I’m going to keep trying, and maybe something worth your regard will cross the internet. There’s this entry and much earlier than that, ropa vieja. More from la cucina cubana is coming eventually; maybe one of those creations will intrigue you.

      If that’s not the case, so be it. We all have our own preferences, obviously. Perhaps something among the 98% classified as “other” will delight you. I hope it does – you’re one of this journal’s most faithful and consistent commentators, Tamara!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Tamara! Then again, who doesn’t?

        Still, I’ll keep that preference in mind when pondering what to try next. Cuban cooks had 400 years to develop their cuisine before Castro’s predations robbed their kitchens of good things to eat. Fortunately, many worthy, centuries-tested, recipes crossed the Gulf into Miami with those very same cooks.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Plantain is one of our stable foods, but i couldn’t have done justice describing its taste the way you have. I totally know the taste of this, except the shrimp and all the added greens disqualify my claims. Once more, I am not getting updates from you. Will have to investigate why not. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow Angela, thank you! Your compliment overwhelms.

      The thing about plantains is, I had something of an idea of what they were like before I tried one. Many people, though, think they’re going to be just like a banana, and then they’re disappointed when plantain’s aren’t quite like that.

      This was the first time I made tostones. While most Cuban and Puerto Rican kitchens have at least one plantain press, often with a beautiful patina from decades of use, I used a heavy juice glass. Still, the result satisfied.

      Oh, I’m curious – how did you discover all the posts you had missed? I know I haven’t received email notifications of new posts (including those on your site) since last spring. Instead, I bookmarked all the sites I follow (again, including yours, of course) and I visit them most days to see what’s new. Unfortunately, Comcast hasn’t deigned to keep me in the loop for months now, so I improvised!

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  3. Oh! I think that’s what I need to do, bookmark my go-to blogs. I simply went to your website after you had left me that lovely of comments, to investigate the cause of silence, only to be shamed with 3 0r 4 posts I had not seen. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your continued interest is most flattering, and is appreciated greatly, Angela!

      My browser plays well with most of the blogs I follow, but a couple got stuck and I discovered only weeks later I had missed half a dozen new entries. Indeed, when you hadn’t posted or commented for a while a few months ago, I didn’t know if that was the explanation, or if my browser was hiding your newer entries. Thus, when you posted something again a couple months ago, the news refreshed me in more ways than one.

      Still, a few of the sites I visit have been MIA for a while, leading me to wonder if the blogger has abandoned the effort, or if my computer doesn’t recognize them any more.

      Like

      1. They represent similar ideas, thus, in this case, they’re interchangeable.

        Besides, we both knew what the other was trying to communicate. As such, the terms served their purpose. Let the dictionary-writers quibble over precise definitions. Meanwhile, we have a conversation to advance.

        Like

      2. Thanks, Angela!

        Let lawyers and philosophers agonize over each word’s “precise” meaning. This weighs on conversations and drags them earthward. No, that’s not what we’re trying to do today. No, here we’re all about fleetness.

        Liked by 1 person

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