Recipe: Crab & Shrimp Calas

I first had calas (rice fritters) in New Orleans the summer before Katrina. My friend Poppy Tooker, a Louisiana food writer and radio host, served them at a meeting of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Calas are a traditional street food but they had begun to disappear. It is Poppy’s mission to save them from passing out of memory and being lost. On this morning, she served a sweet dessert variety.

Jump forward eight years. Another friend, Lolis Elie, was promoting a cookbook (Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans) based on his TV series Treme. At the party we threw when he came to Chapel Hill, I wanted to serve at least one thing from that book. He and Poppy had by then come up with a savory version of calas, and this is based on their recipe. They used crayfish. I used crabmeat and shrimp for the party. They are so easy and so good that they are on my menu all the time now. I have been enlisted to Poppy’s cause.

Make the sauce first since the sour cream will need a while to recover its consistency. Grating martini olives is tedious, but for this delicious sauce it is worth it. My admiration for grated onion grows daily.

  1. To make the sauce, put the onions, cucumber, and olives into a sieve, sprinkle with a little salt, and drain for about 10 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream with the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Set the bowl in a bowl of ice and chill in the refrigerator for half an hour so that the sour cream can set up again. (Make a sandwich from the unused cucumber half, since it won’t keep.)
  2. To make the calas, put the rice in a large mixing bowl. Purée the scallions in a food processor until almost liquid and fold into the rice. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder and stir into the rice. Fold in the eggs, followed by the seafood. Let the batter rest in the refrigerator for half an hour.
  3. Using a small ice-cream-style scoop, form the batter into 1-inch balls. Fill a straight-sided saucepan with enough oil to float the calas and heat it to about 360°. (If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the temperature with fair accuracy by dropping a few specks of the batter into it. If the oil is ready, the batter will sizzle, float, and brown quickly.) Place as many calas into the oil as you can without crowding them. As they cook, they will float and brown. Usually they will turn themselves over as they cook; if not, do this with tongs. Fry for 4–5 minutes. Break one open to make sure they are done through. Serve hot with the sauce.
Recipe Notes

From Crabs & Oysters: a Savor the South® cookbook by Bill Smith. Copyright © 2015 by the University of North Carolina Press.

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