Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Puerto Rico II - Just me and mofongo, paseando por la avenida...

As Zain Deane of's Go Puerto Rico page notes, a person "can't walk into a self-respecting Puerto Rican restaurant and not see mofongo on the menu. It's a must-try for first-time visitors who want to claim to have sampled the local fare" [Deane, date unknown].  I've heard the word before, but not until this project did I ever realize just how delicious and how fattening mofongo really is.

Official Name: Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Spanish: Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico)
Is it a state? Nope, it's a territory - the largest one in the United States
Official Languages: Spanish and English, with Spanish as the more widely spoken language
Territorial Nicknames: La Isla del Encanto (The Island of Enchantment); Borinquen (from the original Taíno name for the island, Borikén)
Cession to the US: December 10, 1898 (after winning autonomy from Spain on November 25, 1897)
Capital: San Juan (largest)
Other Important Cities: Bayamón (2nd largest), Carolina (3rd largest), Ponce (4th largest)
Region: Caribbean; South Atlantic (US Census)
Bordered by: the Caribbean Sea (all sides)
Closest land mass: Dominican Republic, a little more than 50 miles to the west
Official Territorial Foods and Edible Things: none
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Puerto Rican food (duh) - a mixture of Taíno, West African and Spanish influences, including: sofrito, tostones, arroz con habichuleas (con gandules around Christmas), mofongo, tembleque; ají dulce (sweet peppers indigenous to Puerto Rico); piña colada

Mofongo is a mash of fried plantain, garlic and some sort of seafood or meat.  It is not just a Puerto Rican dish, but common throughout the Caribbean.  Puerto Rico's particular version typically features chicharrones (what we call pork rinds) or salt pork, though bacon is a common substitute in the US.  Oswald Rivera, author of Puerto Rican Cuisine in America, further points out that mofongo is formed into little balls or occasionally bigger ones (the Cuban way to serve it), and can be eaten either on its own or served with some sort of gravy or sauce.  Likely of African origin [Rivera 2002:12], it is a quintessentially Puerto Rican food.  He suggests that more modern versions may use seafood or beef.  Even vegans have tried to make a friendly version of mofongo using fried tempeh (the recipe from 2008 is on the Vegan Ricans website).

What I found while making the following mofongo recipe, which I got from the recipe section of and which suggests either chicharrón or bacon, is that if you don't already have tostones - twice-fried plantain chips - on hand, you have to first make tostones, which is not difficult but does get to be a little tedious if doing this on your own.  It is by far the longest part of this recipe.

The Recipe: Mofongo

To make mofongo you only need:

* plantains (the greener the better.  I did buy these at Wegman's for $1 per plantain.  They weren't terribly green though)
* garlic (had it.  This is added to the balls of mofongo raw)
* salt pork, chicharrones or bacon (bacon was what I had on hand.  The fatback I had from the previous recipe was a little difficult to cut into small pieces, and I admit I just gave up and switched to good old reliable bacon, which I had on hand.)
* olive oil (to mix in with the ingredients at the end)

You also need oil to fry up the tostones.  For this, I had a big jug of rice bran oil from that poutine recipe from that food truck in Oregon.

Render whatever pork product you have on hand.  I find the microwave to be the easiest: 2/3 of a package of bacon renders after about eight minutes - start for five minutes at 100%, then one to two minute bursts until crispy.  Most bacon microwavers collect the grease for easy collecting for future use, or - God forbid - disposal.)

Meanwhile, prepare your plantains, slicing them into chips for frying.

Fry until just soft, and drain.  You will need to do this in batches.

Next, bust out your tostonera (or if, like me, you don't have one, a flat-bottomed saucer) and lightly squoosh each plantain chip.  Every. Single. One.

Before frying again, dip each squooshed plantain chip in salted water.  Every. Single. One.  Fry again until crispy and set aside.  Here you could just stop and eat them all - tostones are usually eaten with a garlicky sauce or (a favorite for kids) ketchup.  But I've got mofongo to make, so I'm not stopping here.

Crumble up your bacon, chop up your garlic and add olive oil.

Next, take your freshly made tostones and pound them in a pilón (a wooden mortar typically found in the Caribbean).  My pilón is in the shop (that is, I haven't bought one), so I busted out my old trusty marble mortar and pestle to pound each tostón.  EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

This part isn't terribly difficult, but it is particularly messy.  You just have to deal with it.  Mix everything together and get ready to form them into small little mofongo balls (or a few larger ones).

El Boricua's recipe yields about three large mofongo balls.  The way I did it, I got about a dozen small ones.

This is my first experience with mofongo.  A few things: it is delicious: sweet sticky plantain, sharp raw garlic, and bacony bacony bacon all smooshed together?  Damn, what's not to like?  Well it is pretty fattening.  It wasn't particularly greasy, but with the olive oil it was still pretty fattening.  This is not something I would want to eat a lot of all at once.  I ate about five at once, and I felt a bit full afterwards.  This isn't health food here.  Probably the fattiness would be cut in a sauce or thick soup, which is how I probably would eat mofongo the next time.


Deane, Zain.  "Mofongo".  Go Puerto Rico (, date unknown.  Copyright 2012,, All rights reserved.

El Boricua (  "Mofongo".  Date unknown.  Coyright 2012, El Boricua, All rights reserved.

Gill, Nicholas.  "The History of the Piña Colada".  New World Review, 2009.  Copyright 2009, New World Review, All rights reserved.

Goya.  "Piña Colada: How to Make Piña Colada".  Date unknown.  Copyright 2012 Goya Foods, Inc., All rights reserved.

Goya.  "Tembleque - Coconut Pudding: Quick, Coconut Gelatin".  Date unknown.  Copyright 2012 Goya Foods, Inc., All rights reserved.

International Bartender Association. "Piña Colada".  Last accessed 2010 (archived by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine,

Rivera, Oswald.  Puerto Rican Cuisine in America: Nuyorican and Bodega Recipes.  Second edition.  Four Walls Eight Windows: New York, 2002.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Puerto Rico" and "Puerto Rican cuisine" pages and other pages.