You drop a dollop of dough into a skillet of hot oil. It sizzles and browns. A crust is formed around a moist interior, and a fritter is born.
Every culture seems to have some kind of fritter, be it European or African in origin, sweet or savory, plain or fancy, dusted with sugar or dipped in ketchup.
Middle Easterners fry chickpea-mush into falafel. The Spanish and Portuguese make bacalao balls from salt cod and mashed potatoes. The French concoct beignets out of a sticky flour-and-egg paste that puffs up into something light and ethereal when fried in deep fat.
Fried and true, these and many other fritters have made the journey to the New World, where they have been smashed up with whatever is handy — okra, corn, eggplant, crab, conch, shrimp, salmon, bananas and apples — and fried into greasy little bites that make for wonderful appetizers, cocktail nibbles and breakfast treats. And recipes abound. Cookbook author Rebecca Lang of Athens, Ga., has a lovely recipe for corn fritters with summer salsa. More like a corn cake than a hush puppy-style fritter with corn kernels mixed in, Lang's salsa-fied fritters will be a wonderful way to use up the inevitable summer cornucopia of Silver Queen and heirloom tomatoes. They are a cinch to make and don't require vats of spattering oil, either.
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On the sweet side, Atlanta author Virginia Willis turned me on to her French beignets. They are not the pillow-shaped confections of New Orleans, but the fried pastry puffs the French make from pate a choux, a sticky dough used for cream puffs and eclairs. Willis adds orange zest to the dough, rolls the warm beignets in sugar and more orange zest, and sprinkles them with powdered sugar before serving.
In her book Basic to Brilliant, Y'all, Willis suggests filling the beignets with pastry cream for what I'd call the fried equivalent of a cream puff. Another idea: Add fruit and a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream, and you'll have a dessert fit for company.
Many Southern corn-fritter recipes use a little corn and a lot of batter, yielding a hush puppylike bread suitable for fish fries. Rebecca Lang's fritters are flat little cakes that are dense with corn kernels. Both recipes are adapted from her cookbook, Southern Living Around the Southern Table (Oxmoor House, fall 2012).
Corn fritters with summer salsa
4 ears fresh corn, husks removed
¾ cup plain white cornmeal
½ cup milk
¼ cup self-rising soft-wheat flour (such as White Lily)
1 large egg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ cup vegetable oil
Summer salsa (recipe follows)
Cut kernels from cobs; discard cobs. (You should have about 2 cups kernels; if you have more, save it for another use.) In medium bowl, whisk together cornmeal, milk, flour, egg, salt and pepper. Stir in kernels.
Heat vegetable oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, spoon batter by tablespoonfuls into hot oil, and flatten gently. Fry 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until browned. (If the skillet becomes dry, you might want to drizzle in a little more oil.) Drain on wire rack. Top each fritter with 2 teaspoons summer salsa (recipe follows). Makes: about 24 fritters.
Nutrition information per serving (4 fritters; salsa not included): 236 calories, 6 g. protein, 30 g. carbohydrates, 3 g. fiber, 11 g. fat, 37 mg. cholesterol, 275 mg. sodium.
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons diced green onion
½ teaspoon diced, seeded jalapeño pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
4 pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped (plus more to taste)
¼ teaspoon salt
In small bowl, stir all ingredients together. Makes 1¼ cups
Nutrition per serving (2 teaspoons): 4 calories, trace protein, trace carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat, no cholesterol, 26 mg. sodium.
This recipe is adapted from Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, $35).
1 cup water
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon plus 1 cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges, divided
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Vegetable shortening, for frying
Confectioners' sugar, for serving
Line baking sheet with wire rack or paper towels. Set aside. In small saucepan, combine water, butter, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, salt and half the zest. Bring mixture to a rapid boil over medium-high heat, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook the paste over low heat, beating briskly, until ingredients are thoroughly combined and dough leaves sides of pan and forms a ball, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. By hand or with an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat paste until it is smooth and glossy. Stir in vanilla extract.
Fill heavy-bottomed saucepan, deep fryer or Dutch oven no more than one-third full with shortening. Heat to 370 degrees. Using a small ice cream or cookie scoop, carefully drop dough by teaspoonfuls into shortening. Fry beignets in batches, turning them once or twice, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove to prepared baking sheet to drain.
In small bowl, combine remaining orange zest and 1 cup granulated sugar. While the puffs are warm, roll them in the sugar and orange zest mixture until evenly coated. Just before serving, sprinkle beignets with confectioners' sugar. Serve immediately. Makes about 32.
Nutrition information per serving (4 beignets): 381 calories, 5 g. protein, 40 g. carbohydrates, trace fiber, 23 g. fat, 139 mg. cholesterol, 92 mg. sodium.