Cuban ingredients are evading me in New York City. Although I have lived abroad, I never realized how difficult it can be to find integral Cuban ingredients, mainly because I wasn’t looking for them then. Now that I am looking for certain items (mojo, iron beer, mamey, sour oranges, etc.) they simply aren’t there. For a brief second I thought of going to Miami impulsively for a two-day stint to load up on real Cuban bread, mamey, anones, and croquetas galore.
I have to be honest with you- my search didn’t begin with fresh ingredients to make homemade mojo. I was looking for the bottled stuff- Mojo Criollo either from Badia or bust (full disclosure: I’m actually not getting paid by Badia, it’s just my jam). When I realized this Cuban kitchen staple was not readily in supermarkets I was aghast- “No, Morton Williams, I do not want bottled Goya salsa! Where the hell is the mojo!?”. Thankfully it turns out you can mix lime and orange juice as a substitute for the real stuff.
Homemade mojo marinade can be used on pork, chicken, duck, beef or fish. I’ll be using the leftover lechon from the mojo pork roast to make tamal en cazuela later this week. Hunger took over once the mojo roasted pork was ready so there are no beautiful blog-worthy pictures, only the lingering sensation of home.
Homemade Mojo Marinade
Yields: about 2 ¼ cups of mojo marinade
- 10 cloves of garlic
- ½ large Spanish onion, diced
- 1 tsp ground oregano
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground onion
- ½ tsp ground garlic
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ¼ cup sour orange (or 2 parts lime juice to 1 part orange juice.
- ¾ cup Spanish olive oil
Smash and peel the garlic cloves and place them in the food processor with the diced onion and dried spices. Traditionally one would use a mortar and pestle, but I can’t seem to find mine. Blend everything into a paste and scrape down the sides with a spatula to ensure everything is blended well. Whisk the spiced garlic paste with the sour orange juice in a glass bowl to make the mojo base. I went on a quest in the lower east side to find sour oranges in vain. I ended up juicing 3 large limes and 2 Florida oranges which gave me an exact 2 to 1 ratio to make the sour orange substitute. Allow the mojo base to sit for around 30 minutes.
Heat the olive oil to around medium heat and then remove from the burner. Let the olive oil to cool or 5 minutes or so before carefully whisking in the mojo base. I used around ¾ cup of this marinade for half of a chicken for roasting. Allow the protein of your choice (chicken, duck, beef, pork, tofu, etc.) to marinate for a couple of hours or even better- overnight to marinate in the delicious garlic and citrus mojo marinade.
Platanos maduros are caramelized and crispy on the outside with soft, sweet, and gooey centers. Plantains, a tropical starchy member of the banana family, can be enjoyed sweet or savory. Platanos maduros which translates to ripe plantains are made from totally tender black plantains. In their very ripe and green form, plantains yield savory and crunchy treats with a hint of sweetness called mariquitas (plantain chips) or tostones.
Very ripe plantains yield a sweet delicacy called platanos maduros (sweet fried plantains) that caramelize in the hot frying pan and melt in your mouth. I like to let my platanos maduros get extra crispy and nearly burnt. These tiny pieces of crunchy delights almost melt away like sweet chicarrones when done right. Platanos maduros are a celebrated dietary staple and can pretty much accompany any Cuban meal especially picadillo. While tostones might be a reigning favorite, platanos maduros offer a balancing sweetness to rich and salty Cuban dishes.
- 2 extremely ripe plantains
- Vegetable oil
- Sea salt
- Lime wedges (optional)
Heat the oil. I placed the heat between 5-6- make sure you wait until the oil is hot. You usually want to use about an inch of oil or so. I like to use less oil or sometimes I quickly sear the outsides of the plantains and then bake them at 350 for 20 minutes with a sprinkle of brown sugar to be somewhat healthier. When the oil is hot fry the sliced sweet plantains on both sides until a golden deep rich brown color with crispy edges emerges.
Place the plantanos maduros on paper towels to drain off the excess oil when finished. Obviously they taste majestic and glorious when sitting in the oil but for my arteries’ sake I drain them. I like to sprinkle a little salt on the paper towel so they don’t stick and so the salt melts into these sweet treats.
The platanos maduros will be initially quite hot with crispy gooey exteriors but lava-like centers. Once they do not cling to the paper towel, I know they are ready to eat. Gently use a spoon to see if they will give enough to pull without tearing. Lime is not necessarily a traditional addition, but usually when you eat platanos maduros with picadillo or palomilla the lime used will get on them and taste amazing. A little squeeze of lime only amplifies their flavor.
Tostones are crispy and golden, slightly sweet and savory. Made from the versatile plantain, a starchy member of the banana family grown in the tropics, tostones are green plantains fried to crisp perfection and enjoyed as a side dish or snack. When the plantain is green and under ripe you can make them into crunchy mariquitas (plantain chips), mofongo (plantain hash), or salty tostones. Very ripe plantains yield a sweet delicacy called platanos maduros that caramelize in the hot frying pan and melt in your mouth.
Tostones are at the top of my list of the Cuban food pyramid for their simplicity and tropical deliciousness. I was craving the flavors of Cuban comfort food and went to 5 bodegas before I could find any green plantains. I felt like NYC was playing a cruel joke on me, but alas persistence prevailed and I am one happy Cuban in the city.
Tostones are meant to be thin and crispy enjoyed with a touch of lime juice. Ordering tostones at a restaurant is risky- there is nothing worse than anticipating the glorious crunch of a crispy green plantain only to encounter a thick and soggy toston. Fry your plantains once, smash them, and now fry them again. Always remember: only crispy tostones can fulfill dreams and make wishes come true.
- 2 green plantains
- Vegetable oil
- Sea salt
Choose firm large green plantains. Cut a slit down the side of the peel and cut off the top and bottom of the plantain. Cut the plantain into 1 inch segments. When they are green the outer peel is difficult to remove. My abuela taught me to heat the cut plantain pieces in a microwave for around 15 seconds to soften the tough peel. When you peel them you will instantly feel the starchiness on your fingers.
Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan. The oil should be deep enough to cover the plantains. I try to use more shallow oil to make the dish seem less fattening- you know mental illusions and all. Since I used less oil I had to rotate them around to get crispy on all sides. Fry the plantains in batches if you are making a lot. Turn the plantains in the hot oil to get evenly golden. Transfer the plantains to sheets of paper towel to drain.
Now for this next step some people use a tostonera which I find absolutely ridiculous (but you know you do you- if you like it- go for it). Why on earth waste money on yet another expensive kitchen contraption!? My abuela taught me to mash down the plantain with the bottom of a regular old can of food. The bottom makes for a great and flat circular shape. Ironically I actually had no canned food so I used the bottom of a cafetera (percolator) which is very Cuban in and of itself.
Now re-fry the smashed plantains in the hot oil until golden and crispy. Drain the crispy tostones on sheets of paper towel and garnish with sea salt. I like to sprinkle the paper towels with salt as well to get the flavor on all sides. Squeeze fresh lime on top of your Cuban tostones right before enjoying!