A few weeks back, you, the Serious Eats Community mentioned in a Talk thread that you wanted to see some more coverage of Latin cuisines from the Americas South of Mexico. Well you spoke, and we listened. Check back each week for recipes from Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, and beyond.
I can't abide by bananas. In fact, it's pretty safe to say that they are the only food that I truly can't stand. Fermented tofu? Bring it on. Thousand-year-old eggs? I'll take two please. But a banana? Get it out of my face, and preferably out of my zip code. It's all got something to do with my mom's decision to put a mini garbage can in the back seat of the car where my little sister would routinely dump banana peels to fester overnight. The smell still haunts me to the point where I get a psychosomatic reaction of nausea every time I see a gray Volvo (enemies, take note).
Plantains, on the other hand, I can't get enough of. They seem to be missing a key chemical in their aromatic makeup that prevents them from trigger my bananausea, which is a good thing because Colombians eat them by the mocilla-ful.
Over the course of this series, they'll show up in multiple forms. Black-skinned and sweet, roasted with guava paste and cheese, green-skinned and starchy, boiled into a thick soup, or shaped into cups and filled with ceviche. This week, however, we're talking patacónes, which, depending on exactly where you are, are also called tostones.
Cooking them is quite similar to cooking a french fry. An initial par-fry at a relatively low temperature (around 300°F) softens them all the way through and begins to gelatinize the starch in their exterior, getting them ready to be crisped up when they're eventually fried a second time at a higher temperature.
Starch is essential to the crunch and structure of a good patacén, so you want to use hard green plantains. As plantains sit off the tree, their starches slowly convert to sugars, turning them sweeter and softer. That's not what we're looking for here.
For the initial fry, you can cut them down into 1-inch segments for small patacónes, or you can make bigger ones by frying them cut in half (or even whole, if you've got a smashing element big enough for the next step).
I happen to have a nice wooden patacón-smasher—essentially two hinged wooden paddles—that lets me smash down the cooked plantains. Depending on how thin you smash them, you can control their final texture. Paper thin (you'll need to put all of your weight on them—my wife isn't heavy enough to do it), and they'll come out completely crisp and crunchy through-and-through.
If you've got a small tuna can, they've often got a metal lip built into them that makes them perfect for smashing small patacónes—the metal rim gets them to a perfectly even thickness every time. Otherwise, the bottom of a heavy skillet works too.
I prefer to keep mine about an 1/8th to a 1/4-inch thick. They get crisp alright, but they retain a tender, moist core after their second fry in 350°F oil.
Pro-tip: Season these guys with plenty of salt immediately after they come out of the fryer.
You can serve the patacónes as-is as a side dish (they commonly go with whole fried fish), or you can make a sauce for them. In Colombia, depending on the region, that sauce can be anything from a simple meaty stew, to cooked beans, or an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink street fair concoction (the latter is not traditional, my wife would have me point out). We're going to go with hogao, a sort of goes-with-everything quick sauce of stewed tomatoes and onions.
Traditional hogao (also called guiso) is made by simply stewing sliced onions and tomatoes—seeds, skins, and all—with oil and whatever flavorings you'd like (garlic is a common addition). I really dislike the texture of fresh tomato skins in my sauces (another hangup from childhood meals), so I blanch my tomatoes briefly in boiling water to loosen their skins, then remove most of the seeds before slicing them into filets.
My wife rolled her pretty eyes at me when I did it, but I think it makes for a superior end product.
The rest of the sauce couldn't be easier. Just throw the tomatoes and onions into a pot with oil and let 'em cook at low heat until completely tender. It takes about half an hour—which, luckily enough, is just about as long as it takes to fry the plantains.