Introduction: Meet the Patacon!
Nobody can deny the irresistible qualities of a good pulled pork sandwich, that is, until you have had your first patacon. A patacon (pah-ta-KOHN) works much like a sandwich, with two disks of fried green plantain serving as buns to hold all the delicious fillings. Patacones as I know them - the stuffed, sandwich-y kind - come from the second largest city in Venezuela, Maracaibo, where they are often filled with shredded beef or chicken and the typical burger fixings: lettuce, tomato, cheese, ketchup and mayo. Many other places however, share Maracaibo's love for this banana look-alike, and you'll often see small disks of twice-fried plantains when visiting restaurants south of the equator. I have included a recipe for a dry-rubbed pork and a pineapple cabbage slaw, but feel free to use your favorite BBQ pork and coleslaw recipes (one of my favorite combinations!). In this Instructable, I hope not only to introduce the patacon to you, but also to show the many possibilities of the humble plantain as a comforting source of carbohydrates and as a blank canvas for many other delicious preparations.*
Today's recipe can be broken down in these simple steps:
1. Making the Rub and... Rubbing! (to be done the night before)
2. Cooking the Pork (an all-day, hands-off, delicious approach!)
3. Making the Dressing and Slaw
*Brief Patacon Interlude*
4. Making the Patacones
*PS: plantains are also gluten-free!
Step 1: 1. Making the Rub And... Rubbing!
Rub Recipe (for a 5 lb pork butt, also called Boston butt)*
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
3 tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1/4 cup honey (or brown sugar if you're not paleo)
1. Place your pork butt on a roasting pan. The pan should have relatively high sides, like a hotel pan or one of those disposable aluminum pans found at most supermarkets, so that we can handle the pork to and from the grill with some confidence and don't waste its juices!
2. Mix all rub ingredients in a bowl until a thick paste is formed. Cover the pork butt with the paste and rub using your hands (I find it to be easiest this way). Cover the pan with the butt with aluminum foil and leave overnight or at least two hours in the fridge.
* What you see here is the rub recipe I used today. I say today because I often alter this blend of spices when barbecuing my pork, depending on what's stationed at my cupboard that given month. Don't worry if you don't have some of the ingredients I mentioned, the purpose of these spices is only to make things a bit more interesting, and you can therefore substitute them at your convenience. Things like Harissa, five spice powder and perhaps even fruit preserves in lieu of the honey would be some interesting points of divergence.
Also, I know some people following auto-immune paleo diets do not consider solanaceous plants to be paleo-friendly, (including chili peppers, which I used heavily on the rub). I looked for some more information about this but my only conclusion is that this is still a hotly (pun intended!) debated topic, so I leave this recipe to your tweaking depending on your dietary needs and restrictions.
Step 2: 2. Cooking the Pork
1. Good morning! Take your pork out of the fridge (keep the foil on it) and head outside to light your coals. People often have their own tried-and-true methods of doing this; mine involves placing some crumpled paper on the bottom of a chimney coal starter, like the one in the first picture, and putting charcoal on top. The paper on the bottom is lit and after 10 min, we have burning, lit-up coals ready to dump on our barbecue. Place your coals on one third of the barbecue (not spread along the entire bottom surface but to one of its sides). Place your grilling racks on top (this is an old barbecue that I no longer use for grilling due to its age, so it's kept only for roasting and smoking whole meats like this).
2. Place any kind of thermometer you have and close the lid. Throughout the cooking process, we will try to maintain the temperature anywhere between 200 and 300 F. Check your barbecue every ten minutes or so to see if this temperature has been reached. Place your pork (still on the hotel pan and with the foil) on the opposite end of the grill (not above the charcoals) and close the barbecue*.
3. Check the temperature ten minutes after you've put in your pork to see how it's doing:
If the temp is too low: open the air exits of your grill (if this occurs during the later stages of cooking, you might need to add more coal).
If the temp is too high: close the air exits of your grill. If it's really, really hot (above 300) then open the grill to allow some heat to escape.
The first hour is the "toughest" one because we might need to correct some big undesirable temperature fluctuations. After this is solved, you should only have to check your pork every hour and a half or so, when we check on it we should always see if we should add charcoal or open/close the air exits as needed to regulate the temperature. It's also necessary to rotate the pan where the pork is every once in a while so that both sides can cook evenly. After four hours, remove the foil, you'll see the foil did its job when you're rewarded with delicious juice at the bottom of the pan, but now, it's time to develop a crust!
The total cooking time for a 5 lb pork butt should be around 9 hours, but it's always good practice to stick a fork to test for pull-ability :)
* What we are doing here is cooking with indirect heat, which is what an indoor oven does too, so if you don't have a grill or it's too cold where you live, I would definitely recommend doing this in the oven!
I find barbecuing gets easier when you get to know your grill. I know the sweet spot of mine (200-300 F) translates to the outside reader being between "Warm" and "Ideal" and the "ID" of Ideal.
Step 3: 3. Making the Dressing and Slaw
Pineapple and Cabbage Slaw
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or any light vinegar of your choice
1/3 cup mayonnaise*
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
A tiny bunch of cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small head of cabbage, shredded or cut thinly (I did it by hand but you can also use the food processor if yours comes with the shredding blades)
1/2 ripe pineapple, cut into matchsticks
1. Mix all ingredients for the dressing and add the pineapple and the cabbage. Make sure it's all incorporated into the nooks and crannies of the cabbage (hands are best for this) and place some plastic wrap on top before putting it in the fridge. Cabbage based slaws are often best when left to rest in the fridge for at least 4-5 hours, but you can also make it the night before.
*I realized the mayonnaise I used, although non-GMO, did have canola oil as an ingredient. To make it strictly paleo you can either make your own mayonnaise or simply omit it, the slaw will be equally delicious with a Dijon and cilantro spiked vinaigrette!
Step 4: Brief Patacon Interlude
Plantains come in many colors, or better said, stages of ripeness, which gives them a substantial diversity in flavors. The riper the plantain, the sweeter the product, therefore patacones are most commonly made with green or yellowish plantains because they are easier to handle. Ripe plantains (almost black or yellow with black spots) are better suited for different preparations, but it's not uncommon to see patacones made from them in some establishments.
The patacones left of the picture were made from green plantains, while the ones on the right were made from yellowish ones. Snack sized patacones are made from plantain stumps that are one inch and a half in thickness (like in the picture) that are smashed cut-side up. Sandwich sized ones can either be made by putting three one inch and a half stumps together, smashing them cut-side up, or by cutting a bigger section of the plantain and smashing it both cut sides out.
Step 5: 4. Making the Patacones
1. Peel your green plantains by cutting the ends and making four longitudinal and shallow cuts along its peel. This should make it easier to remove their thick peel. Cut them into one and a half inch slices to make the bite sized patacones or 3 inches to make larger personal sized ones.
2. Grab a plastic gallon bag and cut the sides and top. Place it on top of a cutting board and have another cutting board or heavy pan at hand (to do the smashing).
3. Get a heavy-bottomed pot and put enough oil in it to reach a height of four inches.
If using green plantains: heat pot and wait until the oil reaches 300 F or so. Fry your patacones-to-be (aka little plantain stumps) for 5-7 min in batches so as not to drop the temperature of the oil too much. They do not need to get brown.
If using yellowish plantains: heat pot and wait until the oil reaches 325 F or so. Fry the stumps for 8-10 min in batches, until golden brown. See the picture above. Once done, do not dispose of oil as it will be used later in step 5, just turn off the heat.
If attempting the elusive three-stump personal patron (see previous step), the stumps must be warm in order to flatten them. Nevertheless, it is almost always easier to smash them when warm, regardless of the desired shape. 4. Place the fried stump in between the plastic bag, making sure it is both laying and being covered by plastic. Grab the second board/heavy pan and smash your plantain stump. The thickness is a subject of both debate and personal preference, but I'd say to aim for a quarter of an inch.
SECOND FRY: 5. Heat the same oil used in step 3 to 375 F and fry your smashed plantains until light golden all around (if green) or light golden on the newly exposed parts (if yellowish). Always salt immediately after the second fry!
Step 6: 5. Assembly
Take the pork out of the barbecue and wait for it to cool if shredding by hand or use two forks. It is very important to mix the pulled pork with the juices at the bottom of the pan, which at this point have turned into a deep brown sauce.
Grab a patacon and add some pulled pork and the pineapple cabbage slaw we made in step 3. Close with another one or eat open-faced. They also make terrific appetizers!
Thank you so much for reading, and enjoy!