In Italy, frito misto usually describes food that has been given a coating of batter and then deep-fried. On this occasion I deep-fried my seafood, but it was coated with flour rather than batter, so I may be playing fast and loose with the terminology. Irrespective, it was delightfully crispy on the outside and beautifully hot and moist in the middle, which is at least in perfect keeping with the spirit of a frito misto.
In so far as tartare sauce is concerned, I often welcome the easy life that sauces in bottles provide, but tartare is always a problem for me as the bottled stuff is so very sweet. I like my tartare sauce to be creamy but tart, with a lot of acidity. Too much sugar ruins it for me, and by making the sauce myself I can modify the ingredients to suit my preferences.
This combination of crisp seafood and a soft but tart sauce can be served with whatever you fancy, which in my case is a salad based on garden lettuce and herbs supplemented with shop-bought items like cucumber and tomatoes that I have not yet started to grow (next year).
First, ensure that you have some kitchen roll to hand. You will be using it a lot.
Next, dig out your eggs and make your mayonnaise (see my earlier post on how to make mayonnaise). Lemon juice and/or white wine vinegar and a hit of mustard are standard components. In the final stages of making the mayo, just as it begins to be fully emulsified, I add some herbs. It’s a personal choice, but I like fresh dill, chives and parsley. Don’t worry if the sauce becomes very solid, because that’s what you really need. It needs to be structurally robust in order for the other ingredients to be absorbed without turning it all to liquid. This is because other solid ingredients are either wet or acidic. Acid interferes with the emulsion and makes it much less viscous.
Your sauce should still be thick and gooey, so that when you touch it, it forms peaks like thoroughly whipped cream (just keep adding oil very slowly until it becomes nice and thick). In the photograph it looks rather too solid for tartare sauce, but you are about to add sour cream and pickled veg to it, which will loosen in up a lot will and provide you with something a lot less viscous. It is really important to have a good firm base with which to work.
Sliced gherkins or cornichons and chopped capers are a great combination for tartare sauce. If you add them straight from the jar, they will add the vinegar from the jar to the emulsion, and will loosen it up, causing it to become runny. So I drain mine on multi-folded kitchen paper, wrapping them and turning them now and again for a few minutes. This removes the excess liquid and leaves you with all of the flavour. The photo on the right looks a little ungenerous, but I was making a tartare for one. Once dry, it can be added to the mayonnaise in the food processor and given a very quick whizz. Remove from the processor and add to a bowl.
Add the sour cream a teaspoon at a time and gently fold it in. The sour cream is glorious in the mayonnaise base, working with the dill, chives and parsley to provide a deliciously creamy setting for the the lemon, vinegar capers and gherkins, the combination providing real balance. But do go slowly with the sour cream or you will end up with a soup rather than a sauce. It will thicken up a bit in the fridge, but not sufficiently to rescue something completely liquid. Here’s what it looks like, and do remember that although it firms up in the fridge it will relax and become more liquid as soon as it reaches room temperature.
My frito misto was based on seafood, using razor clams, prawns and whitebait, all delivered via Amazon from Morrisons. Sadly, Amazon doesn’t deliver Morrisons products to Churton, but they do deliver to Rossett, and having a superior parent handily located there, I was able to place an order. The razor clams are very difficult to source from anywhere else, and both their flavour and texture are unique. All shellfish need to be extracted from their shells and dried in kitchen roll. The patting dry will considerably reduce the spitting of the oil.
If you are cooking more than one batch you will also need to have the oven on, so that when you take out one batch and add another, you can keep the original batch warm.
The technique is very simple. I have a deep-fryer but I rarely use it for fish, because it takes an awful lot of oil to fill it, and once used to cook fish, the oil cannot be used for anything else. So I do mine in a saucepan large enough to handle whatever it is that I am planning to cook. The key with floured fish is to get the oil really hot, or the flour falls off and you end up with naked fish and oil swimming in flour. If you are using a thermometer the oil should be 350F or 180C, but if not just put in a piece of seafood and when it starts to sizzle instantly, you should be good to go. I do have a kitchen thermometer but its batteries are dead since I moved in, back in February, so I have been using the latter system recently with great success. Make sure that whatever you throw in is sizzling enthusiastically, because the moment you add another batch of seafood, the temperature will drop. When you remove the first batch, put it in the oven to stay warm, and allow the oil to heat up again before putting in the next batch.
The fat from each batch needs to drain from the seafood, so have a plate covered in kitchen roll prepared in advance and keep tossing the seafood in the kitchen roll to reduce the oil remaining on the seafood. It is never going to be a healthy meal, but removing the worst of the oil will improve both the flavour and alleviate a sense of guilt 🙂
Tip it all onto a pre-heated plate, tons of tabasco sprinkled over the top, your salad either on the plate or in a separate bowl (probably best if you have pre-heated your plates) and your tartare sauce on the side, with a chunk of lemon to sprinkle over the top and ENJOY!
If you want to re-use your oil for another seafood dish, you can filter it through kitchen paper placed in a funnel into a jug or bottle. The kitchen paper, acting as a filter, picks up all the bits of burnt flour and fish, leaving you with a clear oil. It will still smell of fish, so seal it well. I re-use an oil bottle with a screw top for mine. Make sure that you label it clearly so that you don’t use it by accident for something else. The fishiness could devastate another dish. I only re-use it once before throwing it away, which means that this is a special occasion meal.
A lovely summer meal for al fresco dining.