A Whale of a Tapa

One of my favorite scenes in the Pixar film, “Finding Nemo,” is when Marlin, Nemo’s father (a clownfish voiced by Albert Brooks) is worried that an approaching whale is going to eat him and his pal, Dory (a blue tang voiced by Ellen Degeneres). Dory says, “Don’t worry. Whales don’t eat clownfish. They eat krill.” Just then, a school of panicked krill passes by, screaming, “Swim away!!!” “Oh, look!,” says Dory, “Krill!” as the massive open-mouthed whale swims up behind them.

Dory & Marlin as the whale approaches

I’m always one for a culinary adventure, but I must say, I never thought I would actually eat krill. After all, I’m a human, not a baleen whale. But things changed when I read a recipe for a tapa called tortilla de camerones in a cookbook by the great Spanish chef,  José Andrés. They were lacy little tempura-like fritters of small whole shrimp originating at a famous restaurant called Casa Balbino in the Spanish province of Cadíz. They looked delicious — right in my “fried” and “crispy” wheelhouse. So I resolved to make them.

Finding the tiny shrimp that were the centerpiece of the dish was proving difficult. “José’s Tip,” a footnote at the bottom of the recipe, advised that one-pound frozen blocks of tiny shrimp could often be found in Asian markets. Of course! The frozen section Asian market — repository of all things exotic and strange from bull penises to sea cucumbers! I was due for a trip to the 99 Ranch Market anyway, nearly out of dilluted red vinegar, shrimp har gow and chili oil as I was.

Sure enough, there in the frozen seafood section amongst the whelks and cuttlefish and scorpion fish and razor clams, was what looked to be a package of itty bitty frozen shrimp. However, upon closer inspection, I realized that they were actually in fact krill. As there were no other shrimp-like things of this size in the frozen seafood section of the 99 Ranch Market, I decided the krill had to be close enough to what I was looking for, and bought a package.

Fast forward six months or so… Going to my friends Ernie and Debra’s house for dinner in celebration of her birthday, I decided I should bring something interesting to contribute to the dinner. And what could be more interesting than krill! Digging around in the freezer for inspiration, I rediscovered the frozen package of krill I’d bought so long before, and decided it was a perfect evening to add tortilla de camarones to whatever wonderful dinner Ernie would be preparing. And I set to work.

How did they turn out? Mine were less lacy than the ones pictured in José Andrés’ cookbook. I was pressed for time, and I also didn’t use the four cups of extra virgin olive oil that the recipe called for to fry the tortillas. I pan fried them in about half a cup, so my tortillas looked less like delicate fritters and more like, well… tortillas.

Also, owing to my compulsion to improve the recipes of other chefs, I added lemon juice and made a simple aioli to drizzle over them. The final product tasted good enough, although next time I would like to get a closer approximation to what they seem to serve at Casa Balbino.

After I’d plated and presented them, I retold the krill story above, at which point the women stopped eating them. But Ernie and I happily crunched on.

Tortillas de camarones at Casa Demontreux

If you’re feeling adventurous, or if you’ve got a whale of an appetite, I present to you tortillas de camerones. “Swim away!!!”

*   *   *

Tortillas de camerones
serves 4 as a tapa

4 oz. very small whole shrimp (found frozen in Asian markets, sometimes labeled as “krill”)
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup white flour
1/2 cup sparkling water
1 oz. vodka
1/4 teaspoon pimenton
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. each minced onion and parsley
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp. cream
Maldon or other flaky sea salt

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, salt, pimenton, onion and parsley. Mix in the water and the vodka until smooth. Then fold in the shrimp.

In a wok or small saucepan, heat your oil over medium-high until a drop of batter sizzles and floats. With a large spoon or small ladle, scoop about a tablespoon of the batter into the oil and fry. You should be able to fry three or four at a time, depending on your pan. Turn over after about a 90 seconds or when the fritter appears to be crisping up, and cook for an equal time on the second side. Remove with tongs and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. You should have between six and 10 fritters when you’re done. I wound up with eight when I make this.

When all the fritters have been cooked and are draining, quickly make your aioli: Combine the mayonnaise, cream and juice from half the lemon and whip together until smooth. Fold in the thyme.

Place the fritters on a platter, or on individual plates if you prefer. Squeeze some lemon juice over the top, drizzle with a teaspoon or so of the aioli per tortilla, and sprinkle with a little flaky sea salt.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Kat and The Falling Leaves
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 02:40:09

    Cool recipe1
    P.S. Vodka makes everything taste better 😛


  2. Jessamine in PDX
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 03:36:07

    nothing will give you inspiration for something unusual like a trip to the Asian market!


  3. g
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 04:25:50

    We certainly enjoyed the krill we had the other night at your place!!



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