Rice Fritter-Fry

Good morning, sunshine! I've been a busy little fry-girl this morning -- my elbows deep in batter, a do-rag covering my head and "Jill Scott Collaborations" blaring from the iPod speaker.

The project in question was a batch of calas (say KAH-LUHZ), a cousin of the beignet, but with an African-American rice connection.

Here's lookin' at you, sugar. (RW)

It's a two-part project; yesterday, I cooked a pot of rice, mashed it, mixed it with foamy yeast and allowed it to rest overnight to develop character and sour depth.

And then I got up at o'dark thirty, long before the sun, and beat some eggs, mixed them with sugar, flour and lots of grated nutmeg. While the coffee was steeping in the French press, I added the egg mixture to the yeasty rice pulp and allowed the two parties to get to know each other for about 30 minutes (but in retrospect, I recommend doing this for up to an hour for lighter texture).
In the meantime, I poured a half gallon of oil into a deep pot and got it going, as it would take about the same amount of time to heat to 375 degrees.

The batter was a little thicker than pancake batter, and when submerged in hot oil, rose immediately to the surface, its flecks of rice pop-popping just like the breakfast cereal. The first batch taught me that teaspoons, rather than tablespoons, of batter, fried more quickly and thoroughly; I had a bunch of rather gummy oversized calas that I immediately fed to the birds.

Compared to the beignet batter, the calas need twice as much time in the oil (4-5 minutes) to ensure thorough cooking. I also found them tastier after they sat for a few minutes and cooled; then I could really taste the nutmeg and appreciate the toothy texture of the rice.

Batter to batter, the calas require more work, but I think the results are more complex and mysterious, which is a good thing. From first glance, you don't know you're going to bite into tender grain of rice, which is a wonderful gastronomic surprise. You want to know more and you want to know why.

Freshly-fried calas. Can you see that rice glistening? (Kim O'Donnel)

You can make your batter on a Saturday afternoon, let it rest overnight, then fry on Sunday morning. Invite the gang over, and together, y'all can preserve a bit of the past together, no matter the stripe of your skin.

Adapted from "Donuts: An American Passion" by John T. Edge

3/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice
2 1/4 cups cold water
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (or 3 teaspoons plus a scant ½ teaspoon)
1/2 cup warm water - at least 100 degrees
4 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
Canola oil for frying (about 1/2 gallon)
Confectioners' sugar for dusting


In a medium saucepan, combine rice and cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat, cover and cook until rice is soft and water is nearly absorbed, about 20 minutes. Drain off any excess water.

Scoop rice into a large mixing bowl and mash it to a pulp with the back of a spoon or with a potato masher. Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in water and allow water to get foamy, at least five minutes. Add yeast mixture to rice and beat with a fork for 2 minutes. Cover bowl with a damp kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place to rest overnight. (I covered with plastic when I went to bed.)

Add eggs, granulated sugar, nutmeg, salt and flour to the rice mixture. Beat thoroughly with a fork, cover with a kitchen towel and set aside for 30 minutes. Pour oil into a deep-heavy-bottomed pot until it reaches a depth of about 3 inches -- this is about ½ gallon of oil.

Heat oil over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Drop heaping teaspoons of dough into the oil and fry until nice browned on both sides, about 1-2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on wire racks. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve while still hot.

Makes about 24 calas.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 22, 2007; 10:44 AM ET African-American History , Culinary History
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I'm curious why yeast is added to the rice for its overnight rest since rice is gluten-free. What does the yeast eat?

Posted by: Lou | February 22, 2007 1:15 PM

Response to Lou: Gluten is the protein that creates kind of springy fibers that give wheat bread its structure. It's found with the starches in wheat flour. Yeast feeds on starches and sugars, I believe (not the gluten protein). Makes sense? (Check Wikipedia for more.)

Posted by: Karen | February 23, 2007 12:01 PM

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