There are some foods that are unforgettable and legendary, ones that are marked by time and place in such a way that they stay with you forever. These little fritters are one such legend. I first encountered them on a meandering trip through Spain fifteen years ago in a small town called Sanlúcar de Barrameda, on the Guadalquivir estuary. Most famous for being the only place in the world that makes manzanilla, easily my favourite drink on a summer’s evening, I caught a bus there to try it in situ and, by chance, discovered these at the same time. Great lacy discs of prawns and chickpea flour arrived in a towering pile and I ate as many as I could before I had to catch the last bus back to Jerez.
It took me another fifteen years to find the recipe, in the Morito cookbook and, though the results aren’t quite as perfect as the ones you might find in a rammed bar in a Spanish square, they are really worth your time. Fast, simple, gluten-free (oh yes), they take minutes to make and give, it seems, years of pleasure.
Last week, on a choir tour to Spain, I went on a return visit, hoping to find the bar I’d tried them in and to recreate the wonder of standing in a crowd drinking cold wine and eating hot fritters. It’s always risky to go back to repeat a lovely experience, and I was sure we wouldn’t find the right bar. Oh, but we did. And it was just as rammed, just as efficient, just as delicious. Not a scrap of disappointment in sight. Nor will you experience any in making these.
Makes about 6-8 biscuit-sized tortillitas (adapted from the Morito cookbook)
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
bicarbonate of soda, 1/3 tsp
olive oil, for frying
chickpea (gram) flour, 50g
soda water, 100ml
flat-leaf parsley leaves from about 2-3 sprigs
seafood, 120g (either raw or cooked peeled prawns, peeled brown shrimps, or white crab meat); I’m pretty sure the tiny, tiny jumping grey ones sold in the market in Sanlúcar are used there, but any small prawn will work)
lemon, to serve
1. Mix the chickpea flour with 50ml of the soda water until smooth, then add the rest of the soda water and the bicarbonate of soda.
2. Finely chop the parsley leaves and mix into the batter with a pinch of salt.
3. Finely chop the seafood, as required (the larger the prawns, the more chopping will be required; I’d recommend pieces that are no more than peanut-size).
4. When you are ready to cook and eat the tortillitas, stir the seafood into the batter, mix in well and check the seasoning.
5. If you’re not planning to eat the tortillitas straight from the pan then either put a plate over a pan of boiling water or turn the oven to low and line a baking tray, so that you can keep the early ones warm whilst you make the rest.
6. Heat a large frying pan and add enough oil to cover the bottom and to a depth of about 5mm.
7. As soon as the oil is hot, tilt the pan slightly so the oil pools on one side, and add a dessertspoon of the mixture to the non-pooled side. Spread the mixture out as thinly as you can, then peck at it a little with your spoon to make holes in the batter, creating a lacy, rather than solid, effect. Depending on the size of your pan, add a few more spoonfuls of the mixture and do the same to each one.
8. Finally, tip the pan back, so that the oil fills all the holes in the tortillitas and cooks them right through. Turn over, to cook the other side then remove and either devour, to check, you know, that the seasoning’s perfect or keep warm whilst you make the rest. Serve with plenty of lemon juice squeezed over, and a glass of manzanilla.