Recipe by Chef Emil Rivera
Pastelón de Carne (Puerto Rican Plantain and Meat Pie)
My favorite island dish is pastelón de carne (see recipe on page XX). I affectionately call it “Puerto Rican meat pie,” but it’s more accurately described as plantain lasagna. It’s not fancy or complicated—just sliced, sautéed plantains layered in a Pyrex baking dish with seasoned ground beef and cheese. It comforts me.
The first time I tasted it was early in our relationship, on a weekend trip to visit with Emil’s cousins in New York City. The Latin music, the cacophony of Puerto Rican dialogue, and the aromas of fried plantains and sautéed onions in a cloud of island spices made me feel like I was in San Juan, not Manhattan.
When we were able to visit Puerto Rico together in the fall of 2013, I wanted pastelón wherever we went. We stopped at a roadside restaurant in Luquillo, en route to a kayak tour of a nearby bioluminescent bay, and the dish was as good as I remembered it was from New York. It always is. When Emil makes it now, and the moon hits our snow-covered backyard, the whole scene is wonderfully reminiscent of that spot in Luquillo. But it is also concrete evidence of the blended Puerto Rican and Northern New England life we have forged together.
2 cups vegetable oil
3 pounds ground beef, or a mix of beef and pork
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
1 green pepper, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
1 (8-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
¼ cup sofrito (recipe here)
6 plantains, sliced lengthwise
12 ounces shredded Mexican cheese blend
In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add meat and sprinkle with baking soda and salt. Brown the meat well. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat and reserve, leaving the rendered fat behind. Sauté the peppers and onions until softened. Add tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and sofrito. Cook for 5–10 minutes until liquids have evaporated. Add reserved meat and stir well to combine. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large sauté pan, heat 2–3 tablespoons oil at a time and lightly fry the plantain slices until golden brown and just softened. Continue in batches until all the slices have been fried. Drain on paper towel–lined tray.
Preheat broiler. In a 13- x 9-inch glass baking dish, lay half the prepared plantain slices in slightly overlapping fashion, as you would lasagna noodles. Cover with the meat mixture. Lay the remaining plantain slices to cover the meat. Top with shredded cheese. Place in broiler just until the cheese bubbles and begins to brown.
No. 16 / Spring 2021