Puerto Rican – Pastelón Plantain Casserole

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Pastelón and Iris

Several years ago I traded tutoring for food with some family friends. I would maintain that I got the better part of the deal, especially since during that time my friend taught me how to make a few of my favorites of her traditional Puerto Rican dishes.

This recipe is similar to lasagna or moussaka and many other layered casseroles from around the world, but the flavor is completely unique, with the faint sweetness of the plantain in the crust and the richly seasoned, garlicky  meat filling.

Iris is one of those wonderful home cooks who has been making the same dishes over and over for so many years that it’s hard for anyone else to match her results. It’s also hard for her to put the instructions down as a simple recipe – things like choosing the right ripeness for the ingredients and how you cut them up make a big difference in how this dish comes out.

Fortunately Iris took me shopping with her and let me photograph each step, so I’ve been able to replicate this one successfully a few times – when I follow her steps exactly. I need to reserve some time to do this with her for a few more recipes – her bistec, marinated in a criollo sauce with wine and vinegar and cooked in a tomato/pepper gravy is SO good. I’ve tried it a few times, but I never get the proportions quite right. Sigh.

Most important: buying the plantains at the right ripeness – and they need to be plantains, not regular bananas:
Pastelón - Fried Plantains
When they’re yellow like this they’ve got a light sweetness and they fry fairly quickly. If they’re still green the flavor will be  bit off and it will take much longer to fry them. If they’ve gone all the way dark, they’ll be so sweet the flavor of the whole dish will be completely distorted.

Pastelón - Puerto Rican Plantain Beef Casserole

This isn’t the easiest recipe, but it’s worth it! Be  very careful with cutting the plantains they’re firm but also rather slippery as you cut them.

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 plantains (for a 9″x13″ pan)
  • 2 lb. ground beef
  • 1 c. water
  • 1-2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 4 tsp Adobo seasoning, divided
  • 2 pkgs. sazon seasoning, separated
  • 1/3 c. sofrito sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 4 leaves recao/culantro
  • 2-3 eggs

Instructions:

This is a multi-step dish, so getting everything started in the right order will make your life easier and the food available sooner.

  1. Set a large saucepan over medium heat and add beef, water, and the following seasonings:
    • 5 shakes onion powder (1-2 tsp.)
    • 5 shakes garlic powder (1 tsp.)
    • 5 shakes Adobo seasoning (1 Tbsp.)
    • 1 pkg. sazon seasoning

    Stir it together, breaking up lumps and making sure the seasoning is well distributed. Cover and let it cook until browned. Meanwhile, work on the tostones (fried plantains)

  2. Start frying the plantains as soon as you have the meat started and you’ll be more likely to have it all done at the same time. But be careful slicing! These vegetables are a strange combination of hard and slippery, and the shape makes it easy to accidentally cut yourself. You should be able to get 5-6 slices (lengthwise) out of each plantain. Cut them about 3/16″ thick, carefully! Don’t try to cut them all at once – get a few frying and then go back to cutting.
  3. Heat 1/2″ oil in a medium skillet over medium heat- it should be hot when you add the slices, but not so hot it boils and fizzes immediately. (The oil in this picture is a little too hot). Fry until golden, with a few brown spots. To turn, poke a fork in the end closest to you, lift straight up and flip – don’t try to grab the middle.
  4. To assemble the casserole, grease a 9×13″ pan (or larger or smaller, as you need for your amount of meat) and lay the tostones in the pan, overlapping a little as you go, with the ends sticking up a little on the sides.
  5. Your meat should be cooked by the time you have the bottom layer of tostones (fried plantains) done. To finish seasoning it, stir well to break up lumps, then add:
    • 1/3 c. sofrito sauce
    • 1 pkg. sazon seasoning
    • 2 shakes Adobo seasoning
    • 1 Tbsp. salt
    • 4 leaves recao/culantro

    NOTE: Stir in the dry seasonings, but leave the recao on top of the meat. You won’t leave it in for the last step.

  6. Finish frying the rest of the plantains while the meat simmers. When you’re done with the plantains, remove the recao leaves and spoon the meat (straining out extra juice as you go) over the bottom later. Make sure it’s well drained – you may have a bit of extra meat (you only need about 1″ deep), but the extra meat is great for tacos. Place the remaining plantains over the top, alternating sides with the crossover in the middle to make it look braided.
  7. Beat up the eggs well, then brush over the top to make it glossy and let it drip down into the meat a bit to hold it all together as it bakes.
  8. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes or until heated through. Slice & Serve!

Ingredient note: The recao looks like a cross between baby spinach and dandelion leaves. Lay it on top of the meat and let it cook until it has wilted, then remove before using the meat.


Note: if the photo slideshow below doesn’t work, you can view it on flickr here

Ingredients Cooking Beef
Pastelón - Ingredients Pastelón - Filling
Slicing Plantains Frying Plantains
Pastelón - Slicing Plantains Pastelón - Frying Plantains
Fried Plantain Strips Arranging Base
Pastelón - Fried Plantains Pastelón - Assembling the Base
Filling with Meat Arranging Top Layer
Pastelón - Adding Filling Pastelón - Woven Top
Egg Topping Baked and Ready to Serve
Pastelón - Brushing on Egg Pastelón

Yum!

We shopped at:

Armitage Produce
View Larger Map

(773) 486-8133
3334 W Armitage Ave
(corner of Armitage and Kimball)
Chicago, IL 60647

If you don’t have time to cook, here’s a good Puerto Rican restaurant with take out:

The Boriquen Restaurant “Home of the Jibarito”

One Comment Add yours

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