If, like me, you crave all things fried, allow me to introduce you to the divine deliciousness that are chicharritas.
Frida, the third generation from my favourite cooks in Cuba and, fortunate for me, one amongst my tribe through marriage, introduced me to these little delights on our most recent journey to that enigmatic island. What are chicharritas, you ask? The most divine junk food on the planet, if you ask me.
Chicharritas are very green plantain chips. They are also nothing like tostones, another sinful treat from Cuba, common throughout most of Latin America which also relies on green plantains. Think potato chip, but with infinitely more flavour and lighter than air.
So, after my first taste of these lovely little bits of goodness, I decided to record the process. Whilst Frida cooked, I took notes (and pics and videos). And, I ate and ate and ate. Chicharritas are like any other chip — there is no having just one; you must eat many!
Here’s the process:
Take your green plantains and peel them. The smaller or larger varieties may be used; if you can’t find plantains, you can use very green bananas, but the flavour will vary quite a bit. Soak the peeled plantains in water, which you can season with lime juice and/or salt.
Heat a half-filled small saucepan of oil. The pan doesn’t need to be too deep, but should be deep enough to allow a bunch of chips to fry at once. Because Frida was using the smaller variety plantains, you’ll most likely slice about 10 cm of plantain at a time. Use any oil you like except olive oil. I’d recommend peanut or any oil with a high smoking temperature. Frida used canola oil. So, if you’re aiming for authenticity, use that. You’ll want the oil to be very hot. Not smoking, but heated to a very high temperature.
Take one plantain from the water bath, and pat it dry. Using a mandolin, slice the plantains very thinly directly into the oil. Here’s where Frida’s skills really shine. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable using a mandolin, but she has inspired me to improve my technique (and overcome my fear). If you are using the larger plantains, only slice about 5-10 cm of the plantain at once.
Note: if you don’t have a mandolin and are using a knife, the individual pieces are likely to stick to one another. Thus, perhaps like me, be inspired and aim to perfect Frida’s masterful technique. There’s no time like the present.
Fry the slices until they are golden. Stir them a bit as they fry to keep them from sticking to one another. You’ll need to keep careful watch over your chips. Be careful not to let them go too long — in the ultimate cooking sacrifice, we watched an entire pan go from lovely and golden to black very quickly. Beware!
Once golden and lovely, remove from the pan, drain them on a bit of paper, and serve whilst hot. You’ll want to let them cool for at least a minute before devouring them. But, they’re best eaten warm. If you like, you can season them with a little extra sea salt. If you happen to be cooking them for your dining companions, be sure to set a few aside for yourself. There won’t be any left for you otherwise!