Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
Everything on Bloke in the Kitchen is easy, because we’re making food for everyday living and why complicate life? Even this recipe: you might not know the word tostone and ceviche might sound strange, but they’re both simple enough.
The tostones part is just quickly frying something, and any fool can do that. These are pronounced toss-TON-ess, by the way, and they are just slices of plantain, fried, pressed and fried again. In Venezuela the pressing is done in a special tool that is just two pieces of wood joined by a long hinge. We’re going to do it with two chopping boards (or one board and something big and hard to put on top.
Plantains are the bigger, macho, less sweet brothers of bananas. You want green, unripe ones. There are things you can do with ripe ones, but this is not one of them.
The other part might sound fancy at first, but it’s really not.
We’ll do the ‘fancy’ part first. Shrimps. Buy some small ones and if they’re frozen , give them an hour or so to thaw before you start.
Fresh lime juice (freshly squeezed would be great, although bottled will do. But real juice, not cordial.)
Cilantro or parsley
METHOD: THE SHRIMPS
THE FANCY WAY
Put the shrimps in a smallish plastic storage box and spread them out one layer thick. Pour in the lime juice, enough to cover the shrimps, and leave them in the fridge for two days. The acid in the lime cooks the shrimps.
THE LESS ALARMING WAY
Boil some water with a splash of lime juice and put the shrimps in. As soon as it comes back to the boil, turn off the heat and drain the shrimps. This may seem very quick, but they only take a few seconds to cook and if you keep boiling them they will shrink and go rubbery.
Then put them in the plastic storage box as above. Pour in fresh lime juice, enough to just cover them.
Cut an onion in half and slice both halves. Don’t be afraid of the amount of onion; the juice and a few minutes will take the sting out of it. Put it in with the shrimps.
Chop a red pepper into sticks about one inch long. Add to the mixture.
Chop half a handful of fresh cilantro. If you can’t get cilantro, parsley is an acceptable substitute, but less interesting. Add to the mixture.
Leave it in the fridge for as long as you can. Overnight would be good but half an hour will do.
METHOD: THE TOSTONES
Cut the ends off the plantains and peel them. Slit the skin from top to bottom and get cracking. It won’t come off like a banana skin; it will break off in pieces. This is normal. If it peels too easily, it’s too ripe.
Slice the plantains lengthways, about a quarter of an inch thick. That might mean just cutting them in half. It all depends on the thickness of the plantain. (Some people cut them crossways and thicker so they come out round rather than long, and there’s nothing wrong with ‘some people’ but you don’t have to do things like they do).
Heat a little sunflower oil in a pan (just enough to cover the bottom) and fry the plantain on both sides for a couple of minutes until golden.
Remove the tostones and place each piece on a chopping board. Put another chopping board (or a large plate, saucepan or whatever) on top and press it so the tostone gets a bit thinner and a bit wider. Don’t press too hard or you’ll split them.
Return to the pan and do them again on both sides, so the golden turns to brown. It’s like frying potatoes.
Serve the shrimp mixture on plates and use a knife to scrape it onto a tostone you’re holding in the other hand instead of a fork.
If you like the tostones but aren’t sold on the shrimps, you can use them with chilli, or dips, or scrambled eggs. Whatever you like. Once you’ve mastered tostones, that’s just another string to your bow.