How do I make vegetable fritters (zucchini, carrot, kohlrabi, etc) that stick together all fritter-like rather than becoming a big fire-y burned mess in my frying pan, as they always do?
Whether or not you’ve been struggling with the bounty delivered by your CSA over the summer season or just need to use up a bunch of quickly wilting produce in the blink of an eye, fritters can solve the problem by packing a bunch of veg into a batter-dipped bundle of flavor.
However, if you’ve been struggling to straddle the fine line between golden brown and blackened, or between a firm, crispy cake and a watery blob, fritters seem less like a vegetable godsend and more like another frustrating trick of the kitchen. No worries. I’m here to help, with a few tricks that will make your fritters just fine. Did I say just fine? I really meant foine.
But first, a word on zucchini: it’s the devil. No, no, I kid, squash is actually the devil. I love zucchini, though it has a devilish tendency to get soggy when served any other way but raw. Luckily, there’s an easy fix for that situation: after you’ve shredded the zucchini, toss the shreds with a few pinches of salt (about 1/2 teaspoon for every large zuke you shred) and place them in a mesh strainer for about 15 minutes. The salt will draw the moisture out of the strands.
Then take those long, goopy strands and wrap ’em up good in an old non-terrycloth kitchen towel. (Sturdy paper towels will work in a pinch, too, but I prefer the eco option.) Squeeze gently and wick the moisture out of the vegetable into the towel. Voila! Dry-as-a-bone zucchini that won’t weigh you down. (You won’t have this problem with other, sturdier vegetables like carrots and kohlrabi, and leafy greens like spinach, chard, and kale will cook down significantly for fritter additions.)
Zucchini tangent over—I know you’ve been waiting patiently, so here are the two big secrets to fritter making:
You don’t need as much batter as you think you need. You’re making a fritter and you’re imagining it to be kind of like a vegetable pancake, right? Wrong. Instead of letting your vegetables swim in a watery batter that oozes out and spreads into a circle when it hits the hot pan, you need your fritters to be able to stand on their own. The batter should be thick and sticky, functioning more like the mortar that holds your vegetable bricks together in the pan. The vegetables are the main event here, and you just need enough batter to keep them stuck to one another.
Cook your fritters like grilled cheese. Even though you’re not relying on a ton of batter to hold the fritter in place, pancake-style, you can still use your pancake-flipping skills to cook them. Add just enough oil to completely coat the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pan like a cast iron skillet, then heat until shimmering over no higher than medium heat. Add your fritters and leave them be for about 2 minutes, creating a crunchy bottom crust.
Flip the fritters as soon as they’re crusty, even if they’re not completely golden brown, and press gently with your spatula to flatten the fritter for even cooking once you’ve flipped. Repeat, flipping every few minutes, until you’ve reached the level of crispiness you desire. This isn’t a chicken cutlet or hamburger, and you’re not going to turn it gross and rubbery by overcooking.
When the fritter’s fried to your liking, cool it on a paper towel-lined plate, then add more oil to the pan for the next batch and do it all over again.
Ready to try the fritter technique for yourself? Give it a go with the following recipe, which tastes incredibly like a crab cake but without that expensive crab weighing your budget down. (It’s also a great way to use up excess corn in late summer.) Or just use the basic batter ratio and sub in your favorite spices and vegetables, estimating about 2 cups of cooked vegetables for the amount of batter ingredients listed below.
Smoky Corn and Shiitake Fritters
adapted from Food & Wine
Prep time:20 minutes
Cook time:30 minutes
Total time:1 hour 15 minutes
Makes about 4 servings
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 Vidalia onion or other sweet onion, minced
- 1 celery stalk, minced
- 2 oz. shiitake mushrooms (about 8), de-stemmed and cleaned, then finely diced
- 1 1/4 cups frozen corn
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup milk (whole, reduced fat, skim, doesn’t matter)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 3/4 cup (about 3 1/4 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/3 cup organic canola oil (more as needed)
Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron or other well-insulated skillet over medium heat until it shimmers.
Stir in the onion, celery, and mushrooms, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring infrequently, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelize.
Add the corn and cook for about 5 minutes more until the kernels are thawed and cooked through.
Remove the pan from the heat and scrape the vegetables onto a small rimmed baking sheet or large dinner plate, spreading them out into a single layer to cool for about 15-20 minutes.
When the vegetables are no longer steaming and hot to the touch, it’s time to make the fritter batter. Whisk the egg, milk, salt, pepper, and paprika together in a large bowl. Add the cooled vegetables.
Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl, then stir into the wet, eggy vegetables with a silicone spatula until a thick, sticky mass forms. You’ll think that the flour isn’t going to incorporate into the mass, but work at it gently until it does. Trust.
Wipe out the skillet you used for the vegetables and add enough oil just to coat the bottom of the pan in a thin layer. Heat over medium heat, no higher, until the oil shimmers.
Carefully spoon a few mounds of batter into the skillet, making sure not to crowd the pan—I like my fritters to be hearty buggers about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, but you can go bigger or smaller if you prefer.
Cook undisturbed for about 2 minutes until the bottom of the fritters start to crisp and caramelize. Gently flip each fritter and press down on each with your spatula to flatten them.
Continue to cook, flipping gently, until the fritters are as golden brown as you desire. If they’re browning faster than you’d like, lower the heat slightly.
Transfer the fritters to a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining oil and batter.
Serve warm, or cool to room temperature before refrigerating in an airtight container to reheat and eat later.