Have you heard of fried green plantains? They are as popular in Latin America as French fries are in the U.S. – everyone eats them and they're on practically every menu.
Whether they’re called tostones, patacones, or plantain chips, these crispy little rounds make a tasty snack or side dish. They are so delicious that we had to share our easy patacones recipe with you guys. We’ll be surprised if you don’t enjoy them as much as we do.
And here’s a bonus: They are gluten free, full of nutrients, and vegan friendly.
Patacones or tostones?
Same name, same recipe; the difference is where you are. If you’re in any country between Peru and Costa Rica, they call them patacones, and occasionally, patacóns. Further north, in Central America and most of the Caribbean, you will have to ask for tostones. You can even find them in West Africa, where they call them “plantain crisps.”
At least … that's what I read online.
Having lived 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.
Whatever you call them, they eaten as a snack or side dish all over Latin America and throughout the Caribbean. And why not? They’re cheap, filling, nutritious, and easy to make.
These crispy little rounds are so delicious that we had to learn to make them while we were in Panama. We think that recipes make a perfect travel souvenir.
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.
Plantains are good for you
These little guys may look 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. But plantains are used differently and have so many health benefits that they are actually the 10th most important staple food in the world.
if you haven’t eaten cooked plantains yet, you’re in for a treat. That's why we had to share our tostones recipe with you.
Or plantain. You know what I mean.
What's the difference between plantains and bananas?
The most obvious difference is that plantains are typically eaten cooked and are usually fatter, more angular and starchy. On the other hand, the bananas we get in American grocery stores 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.
Easy Patacones recipe
Here’s a simple recipe for patacones. You can do step 1 ahead of time if you need to. Be aware though: You probably won't make them only once. They can be rather addicting.
- 4 green plantains (not yellow or black; it vastly changes the taste)
- 4 cups water
- 2 tbsp salt
- Vegetable oil (for frying, enough oil to be about ½ inch deep in your frying pan)
- Heavy, heat-proof mug or glass
- Paper towels
I've broken this down into micro-steps for clarity.
- Place 4 cups warm water into a large bowl. Stir in about 1 tablespoon of salt. Set aside.
- Peel the plantains. (The easiest way to do this is to cut the ends off, then run your knife through the peel lengthwise on two sides – without piercing the actual flesh. Use the knife to get under the skin and peel it off.)
- Cut plantains crosswise into 1-inch thick pieces.
- Place in bowl of warm salted water. Let sit 15-20 minutes. (This step adds flavor & also gets rid of some of the starch from the plantains.)
- Remove plantain pieces from the water and blot completely dry with paper towels.
- Heat oil over MEDIUM heat until the oil is glistening. You’ll know it’s hot enough when a small “tester” piece of plantain sizzles.
- Place plantain pieces in the oil (don’t crowd the skillet; it’s better to do in batches if needed).
- Fry plantains 5-7 minutes, turning occasionally with tongs, until tender and just beginning to turn golden color.
- Remove plantain pieces with tongs to a flat, non-stick surface, such as a cutting board.
- Remove pan from flame. (Safety first!)
- Spray the bottom of a heat-proof glass tumbler or mug with non-stick cooking spray.
- Gently press each plantain piece with the base of the mug, flattening to ~1/4″ thickness. Small cracks are OK.
- Slide plantain off glass.
- Reheat oil over medium heat and return flattened plantains to hot oil.
- Fry 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally, until plantains are golden brown in color.
- Transfer plantains to a plate with a fresh paper towel, but DO NOT BLOT.
- Sprinkle with salt & serve immediately, with your sauce of choice (optional).
How to eat tostones and patacones
Enjoy these delectable morsels as a snack or a side dish. You can eat them with your fingers. They also make a delicious accompaniment to Panama's national dish (find our Panamanian Sancocho recipe here).
Latinos serve them plain, salted, or with a variety of dipping sauces, from guacamole to garlicky mojo and ají to sweet and sour. We prefer to enjoy them with a sprinkle of salt; 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.
In some countries, fried plantains 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, then let us know what you think.
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