If we don’t eat them, how are we going to save them?
~ Poppy Tooker
Sure, surviving New Orleans’ annual Tales of the Cocktail takes a defiant liver, iron kidneys, and a healthy dose of prudence. But the Crescent City’s liquid offerings aren’t all that require heroic constitutions — its pervasive sweets are anything but trifling.
Since Katrina, the obscure little fried cakes known as calas have undergone a revival. Definitely a fritter, arguably a donut, and with a lineage that reaches back to Africa, calas are little wads of rice held together in a custard-like batter, deep fried, and — more often than not — dusted in confectioners’ sugar.
This is a very flexible recipe. Once you bite into a cala, you realize that it’s not unlike deep-fried rice pudding. Then, suddenly, you understand that it practically begs to be tinkered with. Cook the rice in water? Yeah, you could do that. You could also cook it in milk. Or coconut milk. Lighten the batter with yeast, give it an overnight ferment, or use the more modern baking powder. Season with vanilla and nutmeg? Why not? But…what about cinnamon? Soak currants in Old New Orleans Rum, and fold them into the batter. Make the batter, chill it, cut it into cubes, and then fry? Sure. The end result won’t necessarily be 100% authentic, but it might be pretty damn tasty.
Here's Tooker talking about calas (recipe below the video)
Here’s a version I put together that combines recipes from Tooker and historian Jessica Harris. It yields about 18-20 calas.
CalasGoes well with:
3 cups/480g cooled cooked rice
9 Tbl/90g flour
4.5 Tbl/60 sugar
1 Tbl/10 baking powder
.5 tsp/5g salt
Nutmeg — a few scrapes
3 eggs, beaten
.5 tsp/2.5ml vanilla extract
Canola oil for frying (lard if you've got it)
Combine the rice through nutmeg in a large bowl. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla and gently mix into a homogeneous mass.
Heat oil to 360-375°F. Working with two large spoons, make loose balls of batter from heaped tablespoons (about the size of a ping-pong ball). Drop each one as it’s made into the hot oil, being careful not to splash. Fry until golden brown (or darker, for a more pronounced crackle). Drain on paper towels and dust them with confectioners’ sugar like you're trying to hide a crime.
Eat them as soon as you can stand the heat.