If you read The Kitchen Nomads’ blog you will have heard us praising the wide, fantastic variety of food in Hong Kong markets and how this allows us nomads to get an international feast in our tables any day of the week. Well, in all my undying love for the gai see* there is a small thorn that never stops pricking; the lack of real plantain. That glorious plantain like the one that grows by the tons in Colombia and represents not only the base of our cuisine but also a big part of the agriculture that feeds endless families, makes no appearance in the Hong Kong wet markets. I’m puzzled as to why this happens as it grows in the Phillipines and Indonesia the same way it grows in South America and most of Africa.
Shiny, large, emerald green and savory, plantain is the wilder cousin of banana and is eaten in an array of ways in Caribbean cuisine, from when it is very green to when ripe and sweet. Each Latin American country has it’s own recipes with esoteric names such as fufu, mangu, mofongo and the like, which only goes to reinforce my believe in it’s almost magic properties, of which colombian Patacon is no exception. Most of our typical dishes would be alone in absence of it and although it’s not a dish in itself, smear it with some hogao, put some stringy beef stew on it or dip it in your black bean stew and you will realize why this crunchy, savory, delight is so much better than bread. There is even a song about it that used to make us crack up as children, it’s called Patacon Pisao which literally means Plantein Steped-on and as with so many things in latino culture it’s full of nuances as sung by the very handsome Johnny Ventura.
To my relief I have found a sort of replacement to feed my plantain hankering in the shape of the small green banana that grows wild in Hong Kong and that ladies in the New Territories seem to use to feed their animals. It’s called Dai Jiu, it’s scientific name is Musa Paradisiaca, a very fitting name if you ask me, and it can be found at most wet markets. My only complain is that it must be bought very green and prepared almost immediately as they seem to ripen quite quickly.
This recipe like many Colombian delights requires double frying, which I’m fully conscious is not healthy but since it’s a time consuming recipe just don’t make it an everyday pleasure only a once-in-a-while indulgence.
*gaai see: what wet market are called in Cantonese
Colombian plantain patacón
– 2 or 3 plantains per person
– Enough sunflower oil to deep fry
– Juice of one lemon
– 2 pieces of garlic minced
1. Peel the plantain and cut into 5 to 8 cm logs.
2. Heat oil until very hot. Try throwing a tiny pinch of the plantain in; if it bubbles right up the oil is ready. Throw the logs in with enough space for the them to be in a single layer and let fry for about 2-3 minutes until they are golden but not too browned. You might need to do this in batches.
3. Take logs out and place on paper towels to cool down.
4. Once cool enough to handle lay a 40 cm piece of plastic wrap on a cutting board and place the log about 10cm from the right edge. Fold the plastic wrap over and use a small flat skillet to push down and squish it. Holding on to the long handle of the skillet with your right hand and pushing down with the left one on the center of the skillet, push down to make log as flat as possible. Carefully take the flat plantain out of the plastic envelop and place on a plate or throw directly into the very hot oil.
5. For a bit of extra taste you can can rub the flattened pieces with a mix of lemon juice and minced garlic.
6. Let fry until golden and crisp and let drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with some salt.
7. Keep in pre-warmed oven while all are done. Eat while still hot to make sure they are very crunchy.