In Puerto Rico if pork is king, and by the way it is, then the prince would have to be the exquisite plantain…in all its forms. Plantains can be boiled, baked or fried. They can be mashed, shredded or creamed. Green or ripe, the starchy member of the banana family is a favorite through out the Latin Caribbean and is used in a myriad of dishes including stuffed into many a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving turkey! Although its roots hail from Africa, the plantain immigrated and laid down permanent roots in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Colombia, Peru through to the Amazon region. To say plantains are wildly popular in these places is an understatement. Mofongo is made from fried green plantains which are then mashed in a mortar and pestle with fresh garlic, salt and olive oil. It can be served alone or with crispy pork cracklins mashed in. Often a well is fashioned in the middle of the mofongo mass and spicy shrimp or lobster or savory chicken or pork chunks are stuffed in. A small bowl of homemade chicken broth is served on the side to wet the dish. It’s crazy good! We NEVER had mofongo at my grandparent’s house in Puerto Rico. Every once in a blue moon my grandmother would prepare tostones for us, which are like flat, round plantain fries; crunchy and salty on the outside, earthy and almost creamy in the middle. But mofongo? Uh uh. Not in our house. Even so, when I lived in Puerto Rico as a young girl in her 20’s, I discovered the glory and wonder of the mashed plantain at the beach with friends. Mofongo is made all over the island but is especially good at the beach.
A good number of beaches boast kiosks which sell all manner of local island fare and are known for their mouth-watering dishes, mofongo being one of them. I remember my first bowl was stuffed with local crab. One bite and I was head over heels in love. You’ll often here laughter when crabs are discussed on the island. Local crabs are sometimes fed by hand and almost raised as family pets. The incredible sweetness of the meat will convince you as to the love of local seafood. Often at these kiosks when seafood is ordered, the person who is preparing your meal in front of you will mention in passing, “You’ll love these little fried fish! They come from the waters a couple of miles down the road. You can’t get them anywhere else on the island.” Rum and rum drinks are sold with a smile to anyone old enough to order. The beat of salsa and reggaeton spills down the beach. Gorgeous girls stroll up and down the beach and, as in so many post-colonial territories, they walk hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm, as sisters would. The water is almost always clear as an aquamarine… you’ll want to stay all day… with two fingers of local rum and a bowl of mofongo. Buen Provecho!
- 7-8 green plantains
- 1-2 large garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 5-6 tablespoons olive oil to taste
- vegetable oil for frying
When you go to the store make certain you purchase plantains and not green sweet bananas. You cannot peel and eat green plantains raw. Notice in the photo above plantains have three or four, sometimes five ridges or sides running up and down the plantains. A small paring knife is all you need to score each ridge from top to bottom to make peeling easy. Use your finger or the paring knife to ease under the peel, separating the skin from the plantain. Work from section to section. Cut the plantains in 1″-1 1/2″ pieces and drop into a bowl with water that has been salted, 2-3 tablespoons of salt will do. After 15 minutes, drain, dry and set aside.
While the vegetable oil is heating up in your frying pan, crush the garlic and salt together in a mortar and pestle to make a smooth paste. Set aside.
Pour vegetable in a large frying pan over medium heat. When hot carefully place as many plantain pieces in pan as will fit, cut sides up and down and fry for 7 minutes. You don’t want to brown them just cook them so adjust the temperature accordingly. After the first 7 minutes turn the plantains over and fry for another 7 minutes. Drain on paper towels and fry the remaining pieces the same way; 7 minutes on each side. While the last plantains are frying take 3-4 of the cooked, drained pieces and drop into the garlic-salt mixture in the mortar. Using the pestle, crush the cooked plantains to make a fairly smooth mash. Add 1-2 tablespoons of good olive oil and salt to taste to each batch of mashed plantains. Leave the mash in the mortar as you add more and more chunks of plantains. Work quickly while the fried plantains are warm so they absorb the flavors of the salt, garlic and olive oil. Continue until all plantain pieces have been fried and mashed. Serve immediately or as soon as you can.