Patacones in Panama are sort of like French fries in the United States: Everyone eats them and you find them on practically every menu. They are so good that we had to find an easy patacones recipe so we could make them at home ourselves.
Actually, patacones are eaten all over Latin America and throughout the Caribbean. And why not? They’re cheap, filling and easy to make. From Peru up to Costa Rica they're known as patacones, and occasionally, patacóns. Further north in Central America and in much of the Caribbean you will have to ask for tostones.
You can even find them in West African cuisine, where they call them “plantain crisps.” At least, that's what I read online. But not us. Living in Panama and Ecuador, we came to call them patacones. Pat-a-cone-ez. Four syllables that make my mouth water as they roll off my tongue.
Sometimes I think patacones are even more popular than sancocho, Panama's national dish. Considering how often they are eaten, you might as well call them Latino french fries. But I don't think Latino fries sounds very catchy.
What patacones are made from
These little guys may look a lot like golden-brown discs of fried banana, but they’re not. They are starchy through and through, and leave just the tiniest hint of banana flavor after the swallow. They’re made from a fruit known as the plantain.
Plantains are related to the curvy yellow fruit we all know and love. In fact their trees look identical. They look the same inside, too.
What's the difference between plantains and bananas?
The difference is that plantains are typically eaten cooked and are usually fatter, more angular and starchy, whereas the bananas we are used to in the U.S. are typically eaten raw and are usually smaller, more rounded and sugary. Some people call them “dessert bananas.”
Funny story: While we were shopping in the grocery store one day I saw a gringa angrily shaking her bag of plantains as she complained to the store manager. “I bought these bananas weeks ago, and they're still green! I want some that will ripen!” You should have seen the confused look on his face. They were so clearly (to him) plantains, not bananas, yet obviously the irate woman was completely clueless that such a thing even existed.
How to select plantains for patacones
As you might have guessed from my story, plantains stay green for a very long time and can easily fool the uninitiated. How do you tell the difference between bananas and plantains in the grocery store? Plantains are solid, heavier and have a more blocky shape.
That's what you'll want for this recipe: plantains with a darker, gray-green color.
If you find any in the grocery store that are yellowing, that is a sign that they are beginning to ripen, which means the starch inside is turning into sugar (in other words, they're getting sweeter). They'll be pretty much completely yellow for a while before they develop black streaks – just as dessert bananas do – and finally they turn black.
The black ones are really sweet. Latinos use them to make a fabulously delicious sweet dish called maduros. But that's not what we're making today.
Here’s a simple recipe for patacones. You can do steps 1-5 ahead of time if you need to. Be aware though, you likely won't make them only once. They can be rather addicting.[yumprint-recipe id='2′]
How to eat patacones
Enjoy them as they are usually served in Panama: as a snack or a side dish. We prefer them salted; our daughter likes them with ketchup, which is very popular in Panama. I think it's a holdover from the days when the U.S. controlled the Panama Canal. They also make a delicious accompaniment to Panama's national dish (find our Panamanian Sancocho recipe here).
Latinos serve them as is or with any dipping sauce, from guacamole to garlicky mojo and ají to sweet and sour. In some countries they are served topped with cheese as an appetizer, or with ceviche, pulled chicken or avocado salad. Venezuelans even use patacones as a sandwich filling! Try them any delicious way you like and let us know what you think.