I was first introduced to my favorite snack in Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica—a small town outside of the capital, San José, where I went to graduate school. After class one day, I joined some friends and a professor for drinks and snacks at Zompopas, a no-frills bar and restaurant where you shuffle around fold-out chairs and slide tables together for larger gatherings.
Before long, there was a plate of patacones in front of us to share, with a small bowl of refried black beans in the middle topped with crumbled fresh cheese. It was love at first crunch.
Patacones are twice-fried plantains popular throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The crunch from them rivals the crispiest, most alluring crunches you can think of from your favorite fried foods. If you had to mimic what a crunch sounds like, you’d make the sound eating pacatones. They're the Tom Hanks of culinary ASMR—always a delight. I could've subsisted on them alone.
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Years later, life happened, and patacones regrettably slipped into a distant memory of my year of living in Costa Rica. That is, until I started plotting my own latke recipe.
There is no shortage of latkes recipes. Like challah, everyone’s got their own version. When I first started making my own latkes, I followed straightforward, classic recipes from the likes of Molly Yeh, Leah Koenig, and Joan Nathan. From the beginning, I experimented with toppings, expanding beyond the traditional applesauce and sour cream with shakshuka and guacamole.
This year, I wanted to make latkes that were unmistakably mine. Fortunately, the answer was simple: All I needed were some plantains. For what crunches better than a properly fried latke? Maybe, just maybe, patacones.
Once on a trip to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, the cooks at Soda Shekina graciously invited me into their kitchen to show me just how simple it is to fry up your own batch of patacones. You remove the peel of the plantain, chop it up into four pieces, then dunk the pieces in frying oil for a couple of minutes; once you take them out, flatten them with a tortilla press or even just the bottom of a mug, and toss them back into the oil until golden. Sprinkle with salt, let cool slightly, and serve.
I wanted to follow this tried and true process in my latke patacones recipe, but found that in the end, another time-honored tradition was the most successful: treat plantains like the potatoes and onions in latkes, and put them against the largest holes of a box grater. Everything piles up together nicely in the grater for a relatively easy transfer to a piece of cheesecloth or dish towel for wringing out the extra liquid. Then, add a bit of salt, incorporate a few binders (eggs and matzo meal), and that’s it. You’re ready to fry, unleashing that slightly sweet aroma and flavor of the plantains that sends me back to the comforting confines of a Costa Rican soda.
That, my friends, is pura vida.