Fritters are universal. I have yet to come across a culture that does not embrace cooking some foods in blistering hot fat. From delicate tempura vegetables, to the universally loved French fry, fried foods entice us with their crisped crusts, their savory or sweet fillings, and a sense of indulgence (or is it temporary guilt?). The dipping sauces are usually fun, too.
Puerto Rico is a fritter lover’s paradise. Almost every restaurant, hole in the wall cafetín or beachside shack will have a variety of frituras sitting under the glare of a heating lamp. Some people even start their day with a pastelillo and a cup of coffee! Here’s a little tour of the most ubiquitous frituras – based on an appetizer platter ordered with some friends during a recent day trip to Aibonito, a town nestled in the mountain range that crosses the island. This list is definitely not all-inclusive.
(Starting from the bottom, center and moving clockwise)
Alcapurrias, the darkest of all the fritters in the platter, are made with masa. In Puerto Rico, masa is a blend of pureed green bananas and root vegetables like yautía (taro or malanga) and ñame (white yam). This dough is spread on top of a plantain leaf and seasoned ground beef (picadillo) or jueyes (cooked local land crab meat) is spooned in the middle. The alcapurria is then folded and sealed to secure the filling. Masa is also used for a Christmas staple, pasteles.
The batter for these flat codfish fritters almost resembles pancake dough. In addition to the codfish, there are usually little pieces of onion, peppers, and cilantro. These are fantastic with a couple of drops of vinegar based hot sauce.
Puerto Rican tacos are not meant to be confused with their Mexican counterparts. While they take the form of a rolled up taquito, the dough is the same as the one for pastelillos (empanadillas). They are usually stuffed with picadillo, shredded chicken, or seafood.
These round croquettes might not be native, but they are definitely popular. They are usually made with a thick béchamel sauce mixed with cheese, ground ham, chicken, or fish and fried after a dredge in seasoned flour and breadcrumbs.
Pastelillos or Empanadillas
Pastelillos are the deep fried cousin to baked empanadas popular through other Latin American countries. Like the tacos described above, they are filled with cheese, picadillo, chicken or seafood. Other popular varieties are “pizza” (tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese) and chapín (cowfish). A word of caution on empanadillas: If you order an empanada at a sit-down restaurant, chances are you would receive breaded and fried cube steak. Empanadilla is the fritter, empanada is the fried steak.
Sorullos are similar to Southern hush puppies – the corn fritter served with fried seafood. What sets sorullos apart is the addition of cheese, usually cheddar, into the batter. These salty and sweet treats are probably my favorites.
All these fritters are good on their own, but some of the unstuffed ones like the sorullos are delicious when dipped into mayoketchup, a Puerto Rican staple. Mayoketchup is simply that – mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together with a bit of garlic and Worcestershire sauce.
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- pinch of white pepper
Whisk all ingredients until smooth and serve.
Since those five ingredients are all there is to the sauce, today’s lagniappe will be a picture of the view from Asador Isla Bonita, the restaurant we visited in our day trip. It is located right by one of the island’s geological landmarks, Las Piedras de Collado (much better known as Las Tetas de Cayey).
What are your favorite fritters? It doesn’t matter if they can be found by your backyard or halfway across the world.