Tasty Tuesdays: Tunisian Fricassee

by - Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tunisian fricassee is a "fast-food" style snack that is often sold in the streets. It could be described as a fried sandwich (so unfortunately, these should really only be served as a special treat), but I almost died of culinary delight the first time I was given one! However, it isn't an easy dish to make, and does require some patience as you wait for the dough to rise. I'm sure you'll love them as much as I do once you try one.

Here's what you'll need:

  • Plain flour (about 200g)
  • Dried yeast (the type you'd use to make bread)
  • A spoonful of sugar (to help the yeast make the dough rise)
  • Cold water
  • Tin of tuna
  • Two medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into small cubes
  • Red and/or green peppers
  • Mayonnaise and/or chili paste
  • Sunflower oil for deep frying
  • A couple of hard boiled eggs
  • Black pitted olives
  • Salt and pepper

Here's what to do:
  1. Firstly you need to prepare dough in the same way as you would if you were making bread. The method may differ depending on the type of yeast you are using, so if in doubt, refer to the bread making instructions found on the packet of yeast! Here's what I do (and please bear in mind that I don't use a measuring jug or scales: I've gotten good at making fricassee now!). In a large mixing bowl, I put 14 heaped dessert spoons of plain flour. In a small bowl, I mix 1 tbsp of dried yeast granules, 1 tbsp of granulated sugar and a little water then leave until it froths. This mixture is then added to the flour with a little salt and mixed thoroughly, adding more water as necessary until it forms a thick dough which comes away from the sides of the bowl.
  2. Leave the dough to rise for at least an hour until it has doubled in size. I put mine in a warn place, covered with a tea-towel and a saucepan lid to help the process along.
  3. While you're waiting for the dough, peel the potatoes and chop into very small cubes (about 1-2 cm) and boil in slightly salted water until cooked (IE: they slide off a fork when you try to skewer them).
  4. De-seed the pepper(s) and chop finely into very small cubes. Do the same with half a cucumber if you like this in salads too.
  5. Heat your oil to a very high temperature. I use a chip-frying pan for this as it seems the safest option. To check if the oil is hot enough, drop a cube of bread into the oil: it should become a crisp crouton in no less than 4 seconds!
  6. Hopefully by now your dough will have risen to twice its size. You'll need to knead it thoroughly again and ensure it is of a good consistency (it should bounce back into shape if you push your finger in).
  7. Sprinkle some flour on your work surface, and pull out a handful of the dough. Roll into a ball shape, and then squish into a flat oblong shape about 1/2 to 1cm thick. Gently place this into the hot oil and watch it rise into the shape of a small rugby ball. It will rise to the surface of the oil, so when the submerged side browns, flip it over to brown the other side (this usually takes a couple of minutes), then scoop out with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl lined with absorbent kitchen towels to blot excess oil.
  8. This first fricassee will most likely be the worst of the batch, so only fry one alone at first. When this is cooked, you could try 2/3 at a time, being careful to watch they don't burn!
  9. Once you've used all of your dough (the mixture should make around 12), leave them to cool a little while you get your fillings together. Then slice them open at one side.
  10. Fricassee fillings greatly depend on your tastes: in Tunisia, they are "buttered" with Harissa (a very hot regional chili paste) and filled with tuna, cooked potatoes and salad. I prefer to forgo the harissa and use mayonnaise instead, along with potatoes, tuna, peppers and cucumber.
  11. Top with slices of hard boiled eggs and black olives, sit back and enjoy!

Whilst Tunisian fricassee are best eaten warm, they are still rather tasty when cooled and are great for lunchboxes and picnics (though they only really keep for a day in the fridge before going soggy). Experiment with different fillings, such as cooked chicken, traditional salads and eggs to discover new tastes and styles. Any way I'm sure you'll enjoy them!

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