“It tastes like mofongo.” — TV chef Guy Fieri on tasting mofongo for the first time.
The line was funny, but also true. Nothing really tastes like that Caribbean dish made of fried plantains, or platanos (plah-tah-nose), which are then mashed using a mortar and pestle, called a molcajete (mole-kah-hey-tay).
They are then mashed with garlic and chicharrones (chee-chah-rone-ays). If you’ve ever had chopped Eastern-style barbecue, you’ve had chicharrones. They’re those lovely little luscious nuggets of crunchy, slow-cooked pork fat. Chicharrones are cracklings on a tropical beach, under a palm tree, if you will.
If mashed potatoes are Ginger Rogers made into food, mofongo are Carmen Miranda.
I discovered plantains when we lived in Puerto Rico.
One day, an angel descended from heaven, or a kitchen somewhere, and handed me a tostone. I was lost. They were salty and delicious, like French fries, but thick and chewy. From then on, every time I saw plantains, I ate them, which in Puerto Rico happened a lot.
Then one day I had dinner at my friend Mary Ann Diaz’s house. Her parents were Cuban.
Cuban food is very similar except for the bean thing. In Puerto Rico they eat habichuelas (ah-bitch-whale-ahs) which are really tasty pink beans. In Cuba, they’re all about black beans, and I don’t approve.
Anyway, dinner at Mary Ann’s ...
Her mom made us roast pork. And for a side, she made what I thought was some kind of yellow mashed potatoes.
Until I tasted them.
Mary Ann’s mom was another plantain angel. Only she made mofongo. They were rich and salty, creamy and crunchy and a little lumpy. I grilled Mrs. Diaz all about mofongo. Made her show me her molcajete, and explain the entire procedure.
Then I asked for seconds.
Also while living in Puerto Rico, I discovered plantain chips. They’re amazing. I still love them. For a long time, they were but a memory. But in the last few years, due to the diversification of the area, snack options have expanded like a pregnant lady’s waistline.
One day I decided to pour all the crumbs of all the plantain chips into a ziptop bag and sring it in the freezer while I decided what to do with them.
I make my own pork breader with bread and cracker leftovers. I was reaching into the freezer and side by side were the bag of breader crumbs and plantain chip crumbs. Well, it don’t take a freezer full of starch to hit me in the head — I had an epiphany.
Thus, the plantain pork chop was born.
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(The tostone and mofongo recipe are from one of my prized possessions, Puerto Rican Cookery, by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli. The plantain pork chops are all mine.)
3 green plantains
4 cups water
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons salt
Lard or vegetable oil for frying
Peel plantains and cut into diagonal slices.
Add garlic and salt to water. Soak plantain slices for 15 minutes. Drain well.
Heat oil to 350°. In batches, fry plantains until light golden, about 7 minutes. Remove from pan and place on paper towels.
Set a small flat plate on top of each and mash until they’re 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick. Dip into salted water and remove right away. Pat dry with a paper towel.
Raise oil temp to 375°.
Return plantains to oil and fry until lightly golden all over. Remove to paper towel and lightly salt.
Makes 12-18 tostones.
3 green plantains
1 quart water with 2 tablespoons salt added
3-6 (depending on taste) large cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound very crisp pork cracklings
Enough lard or vegetable oil, for deep frying
Salt and pepper
Prepare the plantains
Peel plantains into 1-inch diagonal slices. Soak in salt water for 15 minutes.
Heat about three inches of oil in large heavy pot to 350°. Place in sliced plantains until they are very lightly golden and fork-tender (about 15 minutes). Remove from pan, place on paper towels to drain and lightly salt.
Add garlic to mortar and crush well. Add olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Remove and set aside.
In batches, place cooked plantains into mortar and mash, adding part of the garlic and cracklings. Season to taste.
Traditionally served in molded mounds (use a small straight-sided bowl for this). Serves 6-8.
4-1 1/2 inch thick pork loin chops
1 1/2 cups flour (I like whole wheat here)
2 teaspoons orange pepper (available online and in Hispanic grocer’s)
2 1/2 cups fat-free buttermilk
3 1/2 cups plantain chips, finely crushed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
Make three part dredge:
1.) In a large zip top bag place flour and orange pepper.
2.) Pour buttermilk into a shallow dish.
3.) In a second dish place crushed plantain chips
Bread the chops; flour, buttermilk, chips, making sure to pat a thick coat all over the pork.
Place on a plate, cover loosely with plastic and refrigerate for an hour before cooking — this will make the coating adhere while cooking and eating.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Into the heaviest skillet you have (cast iron is best), put in oil and butter, and melt on medium. When the butter’s melted and has stopped sizzling, place in well coated pork chops.
Cook on one side, flip and put pan in the oven.
Bake until the chops reach 142° on a meat thermometer, 10-13 minutes. Let rest five minutes before serving.
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