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“Tell’em what they do you, take off that Saturday frown,

Put on that Sunday morning smile, to last the whole day ’round.

Tout chauds, Madame, tout chauds!

That’s how two cups of café, fifteen cents calas can make

You smile the livelong day.

Tout chauds, Madame, tout chauds!

Get’em while they’re hot! Hot calas!”

(A Calas vendor’s cry)

Célestine Eustis, in her book Cooking in Old Creole Days (1911), not only explains how to make the rice fritters that are traditional to New Orleans and known as ‘Calas’, she also describes the optimum way of eating them:  “Calas, eaten in the market early in the morning with a café au lait….it’s delicious!”

Miss Eustis lived over a century ago, and Calas are no longer sold by a vendor who walked  the streets of New Orleans balancing on her head a wooden bowl filled with rice fritters and crying out, “Belles Calas tout chauds!” (Beautiful, hot Calas!)  However, although this scene can’t be recreated, the Calas of Miss Eustis’s day may be, using as a guide the recipe from her cookbook.

If you have tried modern recipes for Calas, you will find a remarkable dissimilarity between most of them and the original ones of days gone by.  Today’s versions load the little fritter down with sugar, add baking powder, and produce a hefty, un-calas-like sweet lump of dough.  True Calas are as light as their name sounds, are made with rice flour, not wheat, contain only a trace of sugar and no baking powder at all.  (Although, Miss Eustis allows that one may use ‘ordinary’ flour if rice is not to be found.)  Made as they were originally intended, Calas certainly are ‘belles’.

Calas ~ New Orleans Rice Fritters (makes about 18 – 20 fritters)

Note about timing:  Calas are made with cooked rice (leftover is fine) that is mixed with yeast and water to make a sponge which sits overnight either in the refrigerator or at room temperature.  Leaving the sponge at room temperature will give the Calas a slightly fermented taste, something like sourdough.  The dk has made Calas both ways and prefers the unfermented one…but this is a matter of personal preference and Calas ‘with a touch of the sourdough’ might, in time, easily grow on a body.

Note: To print this recipe, or any other diplomatickitchen recipe, go to the bottom of the page, at the end of the post, and click on the icon: Print & PDF. You will have the option of printing in smaller text size and without photos.

Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of instant Dry Yeast
  • 1/2 cup of warm Water
  • 1 cup of cooked Rice, cooled (leftover is fine)
  • 1/8 teaspoon granulated white Sugar plus 2 Tablespoons of Sugar
  • 3 Eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup of Rice Flour, plus more to add to the batter as needed to bring it to (and keep it at) the right consistency.  (The additional amount is not an exact measure…having an additional 1 cup on hand will probably be more than sufficient.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Salt
  • Oil for deep frying the Calas:  The amount of oil depends on the size of the pot used for making the Calas.  It should reach a depth of at least 2-inches in the pot so that the Calas float freely in the oil as they fry.
  • Powdered Sugar:  Enough to sprinkle with a liberal hand over the Calas

Equipment:

  • a small-ish Bowl in which to make the sponge and a large Bowl to mix the batter
  • a heavy Pot that holds heat well to deep-fry the Calas
  • a Deep-Fry or Candy Thermometer is useful for judging the oil’s temperature
  • a small Ladle…one used for serving sauces or gravy is a good size…or a Soup Spoon
  • 2 Forks for turning the frying fritters
  • a Cooling Rack placed over a rimmed Baking Sheet
  • a Strainer to sprinkle powdered sugar over the hot Calas before serving

1.  Place the yeast and 1/8 teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl, add the warm water and stir to dissolve the yeast and proof it (i.e. make sure that the yeast becomes active….tiny bubbles will begin to rise to the surface, indicating that the yeast isn’t dead).

2.  Add the rice and mix it well with the yeast and water.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator overnight…or leave it at room temperature to give the batter a slightly sourish, fermented taste.

3.  In the morning, pour the sponge into a larger bowl.  Add the 2 Tablespoons of sugar, the eggs, 1 cup of rice flour, and the salt.  There are a couple of ways to judge the consistency of the batter:  A good batter will jiggle in the bowl, and, at the same time, hold together.  A ladleful of it also will hold together….

….and will continue to hold its shape as it pours from the ladle…in other words, the batter releases in a single round-ish form from the ladle:

4.  Add oil to a depth of at least 2-inches to the pot used for deep-frying the Calas.  Heat the oil over medium heat until it reaches a temperature of about 350 F.  Before beginning to fry the Calas, test the consistency of the batter again by pouring a small spoonful into the hot oil.  The batter is too thin if it scatters into small bits as it falls into the oil…

…Thicken a thin batter with a little more rice flour.

5.  Spoon a rounded mound of batter into the ladle and, with one finger, quickly push it out of the ladle and into the hot oil.  (Make a small number of Calas at one time–3 or 4, depending on the size of the pot…the temperature of the oil is difficult to maintain at around 350 F if too many are made at once.)

6.  Fry on one side until you begin to see a golden color rising up the edges of the fritter.  (This occurs in about 2 minutes.)  Turn the fritter with two forks.  Continue frying until the second side turns a light shade of gold…in about another 2 minutes.  Try to keep the oil hovering at a temperature of around 350 F.

7.  Transfer the fritters to a cooling rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet.  As you continue to make fritters, the batter will thin.  Occasionally add a little more rice flour to keep the batter cohesive and ‘jiggly-in-the-bowl‘.

8.  When all the batter is used up and all the fritters made, sieve powdered sugar over the Calas and serve them hot.

Note:  Calas are served for breakfast on the Occasional Menu:  Mixing Breakfast and Business.

A Second Note:  ‘The Cry of a Calas Seller’ comes from Gumbo Ya-Ya:  A Collection of Louisiana Folk Tales (first published in 1945), compiled by Lyle Saxon, Edward Dreyer and Robert Tallant.  The full text of this entertaining work may be read here online courtesy of the Louisiana Writers’ Project on openlibrary.orgThe dk has written about Miss Eustis’s cookbook in a previous dk post.  The full text of Cooking in Old Creole Days is available free online here through ‘Feeding America:  The Historic American Cookbook Project.

A Final Note:  The dk knows of only one other contemporary source offering an authentic form of Calas– the Cajun and Creole cooking site Nolacuisine.com. Nolacuisine perfers the sour-ish fermented Calas variation.

© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012

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