Cooking Panamanian : Patacones a comfort food

By admin | April 5th, 2010

I am not a gourmet. I leave the art of being a gourmet in Boquete Panama to the Boquete Gourmet Blog and my friend Melissa, the Cooking Diva. I do however like food, good food. As I have aged and matured my tastes have changed, still I have my comfort foods, none are gourmet. In the past I have confessed to adoring pizza, add fried chicken and good green chili chimichangas, none gourmet in any lexicon. I have never considered any Panamanian cuisine as a comfort food. As I learn more I am discovering some surprising things about the cuisine of Panama. The foods eaten in Chiriqui Panama are in direct relation to what grows in Chiriqui and exploring the foods from the ground up is an adventure I want to try.

With the help of my friend Mayra, a Professor of Agriculture in David, I am going to write a few pieces about local fruits and vegetables. The goal is simple, discuss how to grow them successfully here in Chiriqui, how to harvest them and finally provide at least one good recipe for each that we have cooked ourselves. When Mayra starts to write about this it will be more detailed on the the cultivation, for me it’s about the food.

Our trip to Puerto Armuelles left us with a pile of Plantanos,  Plantain in English, a local staple.
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Plantain is not native to Panama or any of the Americas, it is native to Southeast Asia. The Plantain and the sweet banana known to most people in North America and Europe are the same genus, Musa. The banana has a higher sugar level and is usually eaten ripened. the Plantain is used in all phases of ripeness, green it is a starchy potatoes like vegtable, mature it is sweet and used for deserts,

The Plantain plant and all other bananas are large fast growing plants that put up an enormous stem and fruit once per stem. Leaves can be two meters large and are used in cooking in many countries.
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The banana plants above are growing high on Jaramillo, wet and not tropical, more of a rain forest for half the year.

All bananas today are grown from a root stock from an existing plant, most species are sterile. They require good drainage and at least 75 mm of rain a year. The plant will grow quickly and produce many suckers each growing into a flowering fruiting stalk in time. After fruiting a stalk is cut since it will not fruit again. The sweet Banana fruit looks like a hand with symmetrical fruit, the plantain lacks that symmetry.

According to Nutritiondata.com the plantain is a good source of vitamin A, C, B6, potassium, calcium and folate. In addition they are a good source of fiber and have a low glycemic load, a good thing for people concerned about blood sugar. I suspect an expert in nutrition would vote the Plantain superior to white rice as a source of calories in the local diet.

We prepared a very simple local favorite from plantain, Patacones. Myra selected white plantains, she was able to identify them by white skin showing on the otherwise green surface.
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The peeled plantains were cut into slices about 1 inch thick, lightly salted then added to oil heated to about 350F. After a few minutes the slices are removed and pressed down with anything from a pestle, bottle or wood press.
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After pressing the slices were plunged into a mixture of garlic and water, then quickly removed and dried. Then the slices put back into the hot oil. Beware of adding wet slices to hot oil, it will splatter.
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The slices cooked until crispy and removed. Finally a little salt was added and we had fresh hot Patacones. The difference between these and what you normally receive in a restaurant was dramatic. Patacones are good food, simple food, a Panamanian comfort food.

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