One of the highlights of our summers in Puerto Rico was our trips into Viejo San Juan, Old San Juan. Cynthia and I would be taken by our aunt, Madrinita, and, of course, Mama would accompany us. It was an all-day affair of shopping at my aunt’s favorite jewelry store, always lunch at La Mallorquina, the oldest operating restaurant in the Western Hemisphere and culminating perhaps with a tour of cellist Pedro Casals’ house. What wonderful times we had! In and out of shops we went, Mama buying gorgeous French and Belgian sets of tablecloths and napkins, Madrinita giving in to the siren call of a particularly lovely gold bracelet as Cynthia and I stood by watching wide-eyed and highly impressed. My mother and aunt adored each other and this outing gave them the opportunity to spend uninterrupted hours catching up on family news and their own sister secrets. Cynthia and I were already BFF’s so we, too, shared our own 8-year-old/six-year-old secrets, whispering that maybe, just maybe, this was the trip Madrinita would buy us some pretty little earrings, a delicate ring or exquisite charm for our bracelets. As we grew older, Madrinita and Mama strolled ahead of us, arm in arm, chattering away. Cynthia and I lagged behind enjoying the lazy afternoon, soaking in the beauty of cascading bougainvilla spilling off the balconies above us and the magnificence of the smooth blue cobblestones below our feet dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. One of our favorite games was to hunt for ruts and grooves cut into the cobblestones by horses dragging canons up to the fort and back. Puerto Rico was a Spanish territory, a jewel in their crown, and the Spaniards were quick to defend it against land attacks. We were content with the pleasures of the sun on our skinny, little arms, the soft padding sound of our shoe leather against the rounded cobblestones and the dichotomy between the loud, riot of colors and the quiet, graciousness of the residents. Toward the end of the day Cynthia and I tended to unravel. After a day of walking and getting too much sun we both needed energy, a small pick-me-up to tide us over until we got back to home base: our grandparent’s house. On every corner it seems there was a minute wooden cart, always gaily painted a bright red, shielded from the searing afternoon rays of the sun by a striped awning or umbrella. Alongside the cart and in the shade sat the vendor usually on a folded, wooden chair, wearing a straw hat and welcoming us with a brilliantly white and friendly smile. All the vendors were kind and patient with us, treating us as the adults we had yet to be. Some sold ice cream, some snow cones shaved from huge blocks of ice and others offered little bags of plantain chips gathered in small, wax paper bags, folded at the top and fastened with one staple in the center of the parcel. We were, and still are, crazy about them. Each bag was 10¢. When enjoying these plantain chips with my husband, Jimmy, he pointed out it gives new meaning to “dime bag”. But they were a fabulous treat for us and gave us the stamina needed until we reached home. We loved everything about them, from the “snap” of the first chip down to the bits of salt at the bottom of every bag. Another perfect ending to a perfect day.
This is one hors d’oeuvre you won’t often see here in the states unless you are at a gathering with Latinos. Plantain chips are easy and quick to prepare. And although they are fried, you will find that properly stored, the chips stay fresh and crisp for two or three days after preparing…if they last that long. In fact, I find their flavor almost deeper the following day. Plantain chips are typically served as an appetizer or snack but my family and I love them crumbled over shrimp, fish or mixed green salad. We like them sprinkled with sea salt or drizzled with a little chimichurri sauce. They marry exceptionally well with all manner of sea food. This recipe may be doubled or tripled and if not serving immediately, do not need to be reheated. Just serve them at room temperature. The thick, hard peel of the green plantain has to come off, easily done but not as easy as peeling a yellow banana. Plantains stain your fingers so I always wear disposable gloves. The following is how I peel them. You will find 3-4 ridges running lengthwise on each plantain. Using a paring knife cut through the peel down the length of the plantain taking care not to cut into the flesh. Starting at the top, slide your finger under the skin and pry each section away. I run the paring knife lightly over the surface of each plantain to scrape off any bits of peel left behind. You’ll see the flecks of peels as they will turn gray in color making it easy to scrape off any missed. The chips are thinly sliced into a 1/16″ thickness. I use a lightweight mandoline that makes slicing the plantains a snap but obviously a sharp kitchen knife will work just fine. Some people then give the sliced plantains a quick rinse of salted water, drain them well, then fry them. The rinsing keeps the starchy slices from sticking together. However, I find no matter how well I drain them there is always a certain amount of moisture causing the hot oil to pop so I don’t rinse. It’s up to you. I keep my gloves on while frying, also, to avoid any stains as my fingers touch the slices while dropping them into the hot oil. Last of all, and this is important, the very second you take the chips out of the hot oil and drain on paper towels sprinkle them with sea salt. The tiny bit of oil on them will help the salt to stick whilst the oil drains off.
Fried Green Plantain Chips
- 2 green plantains
- vegetable or canola oil
- sea salt
- Peel the plantains and cut into round slices 1/16″ thick, about the thickness of a quarter.
- In a frying pan heat about 2-3 inches vegetable or canola oil to a little lower than high, about 375°.
- If rinsing the slices do so now. Fill a large bowl with salted water, put the sliced plantains in the water, swirl with your hand and drain in a colander. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Carefully drop the chips into the hot oil in batches. I typically fry one sliced plantain at a time.
- As the slices hit the hot oil, stir with a spider or slotted spoon to keep the chips from sticking together.
- Fry until golden, about 3-4 minutes, gently stirring all the while to ensure even cooking.
- With the spider or slotted spoon, remove the chips and transfer to paper towels to drain.
- Immediately sprinkle with sea salt and serve.
- If serving another time, store the cooled plantain chips in an airtight gallon freezer bag or plastic container.