Alcapúrrias de Jueyes

Puerto Rican Crab Fritters

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Preparation info

  • Makes around

    20

    alcapúrrias
    • Difficulty

      Medium

Appears in

A Canon of Vegetables

A Canon of Vegetables

By Raymond Sokolov

Published 2007

  • About

The Caribbean, more than any other region of the Americas, shows the results of the world-changing Columbus landfall in its food ways. This makes sense, because the whole business started on the north coast of Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, where the first European settlement of any kind was established at Isabela by Columbus during his second voyage in 1493. Spanish settlement quickly spread to the other big islands, to Puerto Rico in 1508, Jamaica in 1509, and to Cuba in 1511. Transatlantic trade followed rapidly. After the conquest of Mexico (1519–1821), it was inevitable that transpacific commerce would begin. In 1565, the galleon San Agustín sailed from Manila to Acapulco. Its goods traveled overland to Veracruz and then sailed on other ships to Spain, after stopping in Caribbean ports.

This first global trade route famously brought gold and silver to the Iberian Peninsula and Europe, but more lastingly it cross-fertilized the agriculture of three continents. In most places, entrenched local foodways absorbed the new larder—Europe assimilated Andean potatoes, Mexico added pork and animal fat to its almost meatless Aztec diet—but the Caribbean islands, because their indigenous people perished almost entirely from European diseases and other disruptions to their culture, were a gastronomic tabula rasa. Into this vacuum, rushed the foods and food ideas of Europe, Africa, and Asia. Local foods remained as well. Perhaps no dish exemplifies this literal melting pot better than the alcapúrria.

I first encountered it on the beach at Isla Verde, east of San Juan and just to the west of the self-consciously post-African village of Loiza Aldea, on the north coast of Puerto Rico. These torpedo-shaped fritters, which resemble the carimañolas of Caribbean Colombia and Panama, are part of the large family of deep-fried oddments that evolved as adaptations of an African style of cooking to local possibilities. In the U.S. South, hush puppies substituted cornmeal for black-eyed pea flour. In Colombia, slaves made a dough of cassava. In Puerto Rico, cooks combined the native tuber with the plantain or cooking banana they knew from Africa (Musa paradisiaca)* or the indigenous cassava and filled it with the picked meat of crabs from the local mangrove swamps.

Other fillings are known, including chopped meat and chicken. But the crab filling is the one you encounter in stalls (kioscos) at Puerto Rican beaches. Even four hundred years after some clever African immigrant invented this dish, its improvisational quality remains clear. The starchy constituents of the globalized dough mixture still vary from kiosco to kiosco. In a study conducted for a master’s degree in food science and technology at the Mayaguez campus of the University of Puerto Rico (thesis submitted 2005), Maridía Rosario Passapera, investigating bacterial contamination of alcapúrrias, collected samples at thirteen stalls and determined that seven contained mixtures of yautía and cassava (yuca), three were a mix of yautía and plantain, and one each contained only yautía or cassava. Although the yautía cassava mixture would appear to be the standard variation, cookbooks invariably advise mixing yautía and plantain, which suggests that this is the “classic” version. The achiote-reddened lard is a substitute for the naturally reddish palm oil that would have been used in West Africa.

Ingredients

  • pounds yautía or other taro, peeled
  • 5 green plantains, peeled
  • Salt
  • cup lard
  • 1 teaspoon achiote (annatto) seeds
  • 2 tablespoons adobo con sazon
  • 3 tablespoons recaito
  • 1 pound crabmeat
  • Pepper
  • Oil or lard for deep-frying

Method

  1. Soak the peeled yautía and plantains in lightly salted cold water for an hour.
  2. Heat the lard in a small skillet and add the achiote seeds. Simmer briefly until the lard acquires a reddish tinge. Set aside to cool.
  3. Put the yautía and the plantains through the fine grater of a processor or grate by hand.
  4. Mix the grated yautía and plantains together in a bowl. Then pour the lard through a strainer into the bowl. Discard the annatto seeds. Mix 1 tablespoon of the strained lard thoroughly into the dough mixture along with salt to taste, 1 tablespoon of the adobo, and 1 tablespoon of the recaito. Cover and chill for 3 hours.
  5. Heat the remaining lard in a medium skillet. Stir in the crabmeat and cook for 5 minutes over low heat. Season with the remaining recaito, salt, and pepper. Let cool to room temperature.
  6. Assemble the alcapúrrias. Lightly oil a piece of wax paper approximately 10 by 12 inches. Take ¼ cup dough, place it on the paper, and pat it into a flat 5-inch disk. Smear a tablespoon of the crab filling over the center of the disk. Use the wax paper to roll up the dough around the filling. Wetting your hands, form the dough into a sealed tube. Set on a baking sheet covered with wax paper. Continue in this manner until all the ingredients are used up and put in the freezer for at least an hour.
  7. Heat the oil for deep-frying until it just begins to smoke.
  8. Carefully slide three of the alcapúrrias into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown on all sides. Drain. Fry the rest of the alcapúrrias. Serve as finger food.

*M. paradisiaca originated in Asia and spread to Africa around the year 1000 with Indo-Malaysian colonists of Madagascar. In Puerto Rico, the post-African identity of plantains persists in their local name, guineos.

†A popular condiment sold in Hispanic markets catering to Puerto Ricans and Dominicans

‡Also available in Hispanic markets

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