About a week ago, I had some friends over for snacks and mulled cider before heading off for an evening of strange aural excitement.
As we were all gathered around the coffee table chatting, I asked my friend Rebecca what she had been up to.
She told us she had recently worked some swank party for 500 or so guests that had employed some 80 chefs, Rebecca being one of them. Apparently, it was so swank that she was not allowed to specify names or locations. What she did mention, however, was that she was in charge of making fritto misto for all 500 guests. In other words, fried seafood platters for the entire population of Dow City, Iowa.
"Wow. five hundred?" I asked, "How many bags of Fritos did you go through?"
I have a habit of asking incredibly stupid questions with a serious look on my face which sometimes throws people. Rebecca, fortunately, is not among them. She just arched an eyebrow and smiled. And then we wondered aloud if a fritto misto made with actual Fritos might work.
Of course it can. And why the hell not?
Fritto misto, after all, is a dish left open to wide interpretation, even in Italy. The most famous version, fritto misto di mare, hails from Venice, Italy and consists primarily of seafood, which isn't exactly shocking news when one thinks about it. A little further south and west, the folks in Modena prefer calves' brains, livers, and sweetbreads. Others like a purely vegetarian mix. It has even been tried, with varying degrees of success, with fruit. Hmmm. So if you object to my using a bag of chips in my recipe, that's your own issue. I happen to think it's rather charming.
And I am totally unashamed in my love of Fritos ® corn chips. And fried seafood. So I kind of married them a little. And before you ask, the Fritos people aren't paying me to say I like them. I just do.
Fritos corn chips, if you didn't know, were the brain child of two Texas brothers, Earl and Elmer Doolin, and their mother, Daisy. So it seems only fitting that this particular version of fritto misto should have a sufficiently Texas feel to it.
While developing this recipe, I ran into all sorts of problems. Batter-dipped or simply dredged? I thought a beer batter would be great-- especially with a Texas beer like Shiner Bock-- but it was too heavy for my liking. Should I simply coat everything in crushed Fritos and fry away? Definitely not. The Fritos crumbs just turned black and sank to the bottom of the frying pan. Whatever method I tried, the Fritos just burned. And then I realized something:
Fritos are already fried. It's says so in plain Spanish right there in the name. Since I was not going for a re-fritto misto, I decided that, since the chips were already fried, I would have to come up with something else. So I did.
And here you are:
This is essentially fritto misto with a little extra help at the end. There are two tricks involved: not over-frying your seafood, and dumping your hot, fried things (after a good shake or two to remove excess oil) directly into and awaiting bowl of ground Fritos for a good tossing. And, if you want it more corn chippier, just sprinkle the finished platter with an extra handful.
2 quarts vegetable oil. The Italians use olive oil, but this isn't Italy and my wallet won't allow for such luxuries.
1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined, preferably 21/25 count.
1/2 pound fresh calamari (not exactly Texan, I know, but I like it and it is, essentially, fritto misto).
1 cup of green beans, cut into 2" pieces
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced crosswise into 1/4" pieces
2 cups milk (whole, non-fat, whatever)
1 cup of all-purpose flour
Salt, black pepper, and Cayenne pepper to taste
2 cups ground Fritos corn chips.
Lemon or lime wedges for garnish and eventual squeezing.
1. Fill a wide, deep pan with frying oil about halfway full. Heat oil to about 375° F.
2. In a food processor or, if you are living somewhere that lacks electricity or simply feeling old-fashioned, mortar and pestle, grind corn chips into a fine consistency. Set aside.
2. Combine flour, salt, black pepper, and Cayenne pepper in a wide, shallow bowl or dish. Set aside.
3. Soak the to-be-fried items (in this case: shrimp, calamari, green beans, and jalapeño pepper) in milk for a minute or two.Working in two batches (or as many as you need, really, but I should add here that it is best to work as quickly as possible), take one half of your fry fodder, shake off excess milk, dredge in flour mixture, shake off excess flour, then fry for about one minute. You aren't looking for golden brown here. In fact, if you achieve golden brown, you've more than likely overcooked the seafood.
4. Remove fried items from fryer, shake to remove excess oil (this recipe, it seems, is all about shaking and avoidance of excesses), and toss into awaiting corn chip crumbs.
5. Repeat with second half of fry fodder.
6. Place your Fritos misto on a warm platter and garnish with citrus wedges and cilantro leaves which may or may mot also have been fried. Drink with a cold, Texas beer and wonder what other near-literal interpretation of a classic dish you can think up next.