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. Here are the three big secrets to fritter making:
How to Make Vegetable Fritters
Dry those vegetables thoroughly.
Specifically, zucchini and summer squash: they’re the devil. No, no, I kid, hard squash is actually the devil. I love all manner of tender summer squash, though it has a devilish tendency to get soggy when sliced and shredded.
Water content varies with every squash, but if you’ve been blessed with the gift of weepy zucchini, there’s an easy fix.
After you’ve shredded the squash, toss with a few pinches of salt (about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per squash) and place the shreds 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 in a woven cotton (non-terrycloth) towel. Flour sack towels are great for this.
Squeeze gently and wick the moisture out of the vegetable into the towel. Voila! Dry-as-a-bone squash that won’t weigh you down.
If you’re using leafy greens like spinach, chard, and kale, cook them in a pan before adding to the fritter batter to wilt them and steam away the excess moisture. If needed, press the cooked greens in a metal strainer or wrap in a towel as noted above until dry.
You won’t have this problem with other, sturdier vegetables like corn, cauliflower, carrots, or kohlrabi, which is why we’re starting Fritters 101 below with a basic recipe that needs no wringing.
You don’t need as much batter as you think.
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 a grilled cheese sandwich.
Specifically, using my technique for the perfect grilled cheese sandwich and cook them low and slow.
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?
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.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium Vidalia onion or other sweet onion, minced
- 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces; 170 grams) cauliflower rice or finely chopped cauliflower
- 1 1/4 cups (6 ounces; 170 grams) frozen corn
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup milk (any fat percentage)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 3/4 cup (90 grams; 3 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 6 tablespoons organic canola oil (plus 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 and cauliflower and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, 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.
- Scrape the vegetables onto a small rimmed baking sheet, spreading them out to cool for about 15-20 minutes until they are no longer steaming and hot to the touch.
- 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 and add 2 tablespoons canola oil. Heat over medium heat, no higher, until the oil shimmers.
- Spoon rounds of batter about 2 1/2 inches in diameter into the skillet, making sure not to crowd the pan.
- Cook undisturbed for about 2 minutes until the bottom of the fritters start to crisp and caramelize.
- Gently flip each fritter and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
- Flip once more as needed 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 wire rack and repeat with the remaining oil and batter to make 12 total fritters.
- Serve warm, or cool to room temperature on the rack before refrigerating in an airtight container to reheat and eat later.