Pastelón, the Puerto Rican layered meat and sweet plantain pie, is one of those recipes that can divide families.
Being a “Nuyorican” (a Puerto Rican from New York), I found this to be true when my husband and I came together over our first dish of pastelón. As a native Puerto Rican, he argued that my version “wasn’t the real deal.”
It was as real to me as his attitude, so I defended my version tooth and nail!
According to him, and many other mainland Puerto Ricans, pastelón has no cheese. It must also include green beans—French cut.
But for most Nuyoricans like me, cheese is a must and green beans are omitted.
Some camps include all of the above, plus the addition of raisins. (Although if there's one thing that my husband and I can agree on, it's that raisins should come nowhere near a dish of pastelón.)
The Ingredients for Making Pastelón
Personal preferences for cheese, green beans, or raisins aside, all pastelóns contain a filling of ground beef, onion, and bell pepper called picadillo. This is layered between thinly sliced, fried strips of sweet ripe plantains, similar to Italian lasagna.
An egg mixture is then poured over the pie and the whole blessed thing is baked to perfection.
Here are a few ingredients that might be unfamiliar to you if you haven't done a lot of Puerto Rican cooking, plus where to buy and best substitutes if you're having trouble finding them:
- Sweet Plantains: When ripe, plantains have a bright yellow peel that is often mottled with brown or black spots, and it will yield to light pressure -- take a look at the photo of ripe and unripe plantains above. Ripe plantains are much sweeter than unripe green plantains, and larger and starchier than their banana cousins. Plantains can be found at most large grocery stores or Latin markets. It's fine to buy them while they're still green; just let them sit out on your counter until ripe (which can take up to five days).
- Adobo Seasoning Blend: Adobo acts like a seasoned salt, with granulated garlic, dried oregano, black pepper and turmeric. This mix is widely available in the spice section at most national grocery store chains as well as at Latin markets.
- Sazón Flavoring Blend: Typically used to add flavor and color, sazón contains salt, granulated garlic, pepper, and cumin. You can buy this mix at Latin markets, but it's fine to skip it if you're having trouble finding it. You can also try making your own recaito following this recipe on my site Sense & Edibility, or look for it online from places like this one.
- Recaito Flavoring Base: Derived from Mexican coriander, recaito is a flavor base with onions, garlic, sweet peppers, and a little bit of cilantro. Try making your own sazón following this recipe from my site, or online. Substitute a tablespoon of chopped cilantro if you can’t find recaito.
Everyone's Pastelón Is Unique
Each family has their own version of pastelón—it is the ultimate in comfort food, so any time is a good time to prepare and serve it. Mine includes shredded cheese and leaves out the traditional raisins and green beans. If you'd like, leave out the cheese, or add in 1/2 cup raisins or 1 cup canned drained French cut green beans.
More Family-Friendly Casseroles
Pastelón (Puerto Rican Plantain "Lasagna")
- 4 ripe plantains, about 3 to 3 1/4 pounds
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 pound ground beef (preferably ground round) or ground turkey
- 1 teaspoon adobo seasoning blend
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sazón flavoring blend, store-bought or homemade, optional
- 1 small white onion, minced (about 1 cup)
- 1 green bell pepper, minced (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon recaito flavoring base (store-bought or homemade), or 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 6 pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
- 1 teaspoon capers
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 2 cups Monterey jack, cheddar, or mozzarella cheese, divided
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 350°F:
Lightly grease a 10x10 casserole dish (for a thicker pastelón) or 9x13 casserole dish (for a thinner pastelón) with nonstick cooking spray or butter.
Prepare the plantains:
Cut off both ends from the plantain, then use the tip of your knife to cut a slit down the back. Using your two thumbs, remove the peel from the plantain and discard the peel.
Once you’ve peeled all the plantains, slice each one in half down the length. Separate the two halves and flip them onto their flat sides to create a stable base. Place your palm flat on top of the plantain, and use a sharp knife to slice parallel to the cutting board and cut the plantains into very thin slices (about 1/4-inch thick). Set aside.
(Alternatively, you can use a mandoline to slice the plantains thinly, but be careful because the plantains are soft and the mandoline is sharp!)
Fry the plantains:
In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil to 300°F over medium heat (check the temperature with a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer). Line a plate with paper towels to drain the plantains after frying, and set next to the stove.
Place four or five slices of plantains into the oil and fry for about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, or until the plantains have a browned slightly. Remove from the skillet to the paper-lined plate to drain. Continue frying the remaining plantains.
Cook the beef:
Drain all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the pan you used to fry the plantains. Return the pan to the stove and heat over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and season with the adobo and sazón.
Continue to cook the meat, breaking it up into crumbles, for 6 minutes or until browned. Drain the meat by pouring it into a colander, but leave a bit of the grease in the pan to cook the vegetables.
Cook the vegetables:
Return the empty pan to the heat and cook the onions, bell pepper, and recaito for 3 minutes or until glossy. Add the olives, capers, and dried oregano, and cook for 2 more minutes.
Finish the filling:
Return the ground beef to the pan with the vegetables, along with the tomato sauce, and then stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat.
Assemble the pastelón:
Cover the bottom of the casserole dish with a single layer of the fried plantain strips. Spoon a 1-inch layer of the ground beef mixture onto the plantains. Top with 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Repeat with another layer of plantains, meat, and cheese (reserve the remaining 1 cup of cheese). Top with a final layer of plantains.
Add the egg layer:
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and baking soda until frothy. Pour this mixture over the plantains.
Bake the pastelón, uncovered, for 25 minutes:
Remove from the oven and top with the remaining cup of cheese. Return the dish to the oven and cook for an additional five minutes, until the cheese has melted.
Cool and serve:
Remove the pastelón from the oven. Allow it to cool for at least fifteen minutes before slicing and serving, which helps it maintain its shape when sliced.
Leftovers can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to three days. To reheat, cut a portion and place either in the microwave or the oven until warmed through.