It was 2006. I’d graduated from Duke (before the lacrosse scandal, people) and had been living in Washington DC working my first “real” job. Tired of the huge vats of pasta with red sauce, frozen bags of dumplings, and shriveled rotisserie birds that had become my go-to meals, I remember coming across this recipe in the New York Times –Tostones with Shrimp in Ajilimójili Sauce. WTF?! I saw it as a challenge. My roommates were skeptical as the heavy aroma of fried plantains filled our tiny apartment (okay, I was skeptical too), but dude!— it ended up working. Now whenever I see plantains, that first foray into adventurous cooking rushes back, fresh as ever.
FRIED PLANTAINS (TOSTONES) with SPICED SHRIMP, AVOCADO & LIME
adapted from this New York Times recipe, for 6 generous appetizer servings:
about 1/2 a cup of ketchup or Spanish-style tomato sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon of Sazon sin achiote seasoning (optional)
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper or hot sauce to taste
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 pounds of shrimp (peeled, deveined, chopped)
juice from 2-3 limes
3 large ripe avocados (peeled, pitted, cubed)
3 large green plantains (peeled, sliced in 1.5 to 2-inch medallions)
round cookie cutters
canola oil for frying
In a medium bowl, combine the ketchup, honey, Sazon seasoning, Aleppo pepper or hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set this sauce aside. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the butter and oil on medium-high flame. Add the garlic until it begins to color. Add the chopped shrimp and saute for a minute. Add the sauce and stir to combine. Saute until all the shrimp are no longer translucent, about 3-4 minutes more. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl and set aside. Drizzle the lime juice between both the shrimp and the avocados.
Meanwhile, heat about 1-2 inches of canola oil on medium-high flame in a pot with a high rim, leaving at least 4 inches at the top for safety. When the oil is hot, add the plantains in batches taking care not to overcrowd. (The first plantain is the sacrificial lamb; if the oil isn’t hot enough, it will just sit there without stirring any bubbles) Use a slotted spoon or tongs to flip the plantains. When they begin to turn golden, carefully lift them from the oil and transfer them to a working surface. Place one plantain medallion at a time into a cookie cutter and use the bottom of a jar to press the medallion into a flat disc. Return the plantain discs to the oil and fry until nicely golden brown. Transfer to a platter lined with a paper towel to drain (they will crisp up as they cool a bit). Season with salt. Repeat until all the plantain medallions are done.
To assemble, place one of the tostones into a cookie cutter, spoon some of the avocado over it, then spoon some of the shrimp over the avocado. Top with another of the tostones. (If necessary, use two cookie cutter taped together) Carefully remove the cookie cutters. Serve immediately with a lime wedge.