Patacones

I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to attend an EM-related conference in DC recently. The conference itself was very interesting, but lengthy, and it was difficult getting in sightseeing! I know, the struggle is real.

However, on the last day I did play hooky, and made it to the National Gallery. Naturally, being a creature of culture and refinement, I love museums, love expanding my understanding of color, contrast, composition, and the mirror it holds up to human nature.

I also love art for the crazy therein:

saint with eyes

I forgot to note the title, but I’m going to guess this is St Lucy, whose eyes were gouged out for her faith. I deem this depiction whimsical, slightly surreal, and far less gruesome than it could have been. Nonetheless, my main takeaway continues to be that older religious art is, frankly, wacky as hey. This museum did not have any excellent examples of my favorite of all religious themes – Mary squirting breast milk. For real, this is a thing, not particularly prevalent in US art collections, but rampant in Europe. Look it up.

Some tableau, stripped of the cultural context in which they were created, become a bit bizarre:

dancing christ picture

For example, yes, I’m not a philistine, and I’m aware this is a tableau of Jesus being scourged. However, given the nudity, fabulous hats, and His vaguely bored look, it definitely reads more, “orgy that’s trying too hard” to me.

My all time favorite older painting is any kind of tableau that involves lots of animals, be it a depiction of the ark, the visitation of the Magi, etc… These are delightful for at least two main reasons. The first is the sheer scope of animals. Clearly during the ages of patronage art was valued at least in part for quantity, and no one wanted to be known for skimping on the kangaroos.

The second is that, while many animals were readily available for real life study, painters generally wanted to mix it up a little, and increase the variety, thus why a surprising number of anatomical illustrations had a rhinoceros in the background for no particularly good reason. Adding exotic creatures wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal these days, when the internet and zoos have made it relatively simple to look at photos of any animal of your choice, but back in the day depicting a hyena involved knowing someone who had one for funsies (unusual in Europe), looking at other people’s illustrations (quality unverifiable), or reading descriptions of them from travel journals, which was somewhat like creating an animal via a game of telephone.

The one painting I found of this in the National Gallery wasn’t the best example (my favorite example is in the NC Museum of Art and involves some really confusing monkeys), but was still fun:

animal painting

Oxen, good. Bears, okay (large better than small). Lion perhaps a bit bumpy in the forehead? Hyena? downright weird.

Okay, on to the matter at hand, namely patacones. Patacones are just fried plantains, i.e. these weird green bananas you see at the grocery store but don’t buy. They are the basis for chifles, the far-superior, non-sweet version of banana chips. Patacones are smashed, fried version of plantains, and they provide a lovely, starchy, fried accompaniment to all kinds of South American dishes, or, when accompanied by a nice sauce, can be an appetizer in their own right.

plantain

The plantain above is a little sad because apparently it was drop-kicked to the upper part of the US from Mexico. In an ideal world your plantain should have far less bruising. I like them super-green, which means they’re starchy, but some like them a little yellow, i.e. closer to sweet.

Turning plantains into patacones traditionally involves frying them twice, because unlike the bananas which they resemble, plantains are quite tough and require a lot of cooking. However, the excellent recipe below, which is cribbed from laylita.com, instead involves boiling and then frying. In my experience this results in absolutely no loss of flavor, effects some decrease in fat content, and produces patacones that remain crisp but not tooth-chippingly hard for days. Basically, a win-win-win-win-win!

So, the plantain is halved, boiled, sliced, and then smashed.

sliced plantains

I like to smash them between two sheets of parchment paper, using a drinking glass to supply the force, but true believers like my mother actually own a press specifically designed for plantains. The point with pressing is to get them as thin as possible without making them crumble, and it’s an art, not a science.

The slices are then placed in oil and fried until golden brown on both sides.

plantains in pan

I can say, despite my time in Ecuador I am not great at this process and mine tend to lean towards, ummmm, well-done?

fried plantain

However, it isn’t rocket science, and if you are willing to be more patient and pay attention to each patty individually, it will go better. These are really the perfect accompaniment to any kind of curry, and they also partake of the fun of finally using one of those ingredients you see in the grocery store but don’t know how to approach.

Enjoy!

Patacones
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Ingredients
  1. 1 green plantain
  2. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  3. salt
Instructions
  1. Peel the plantain (you may need a knife to score the side) and cut in half. Place in a pan and add water to cover. Turn heat on high, and bring to a boil. Cook for ~25 minutes (until easily pierced with a fork). Remove pan from heat, leaving plantain in water until ready to cook.
  2. Cut plantain into 8 equal slices. Gently flatten each slice between two sheets of parchment paper using a water glass. Try to get the slices as thin as possible without crumbling.
  3. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan over medium. Add the sliced plantain and cook until golden brown on both sides, approximately 4 minutes per side.
  4. Cool and drain on paper towels, sprinkling with salt.
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