Photo by Regina Charboneau
To try corn and prawn fritters, click here for the recipe.
Many (over 20) years ago my husband and I wanted to take a February vacation away from San Francisco. The criteria: tropical weather, a foreign language, and, of course, good food. Looking back it was so '80s and self-indulgent, but as I type this I am not sure whether we became more enlightened beings in the '90s or if it was simply "Motherhood" that quickly shifted me out of the "me" mode.
After a bit of research we ended up with plane tickets to Guadalupe and Martinique in the French West Indies. Although we went into this vacation quite blindly, it was one of the best vacations we ever had. As always, food plays a large part in my happiness, and we hit pay dirt.
The French West Indies seemed foreign but familiar at the same time. The shared cultural similarity of the food from the West Indies compared to Louisiana was astounding. It was an unexpected pleasure, and it gave me a newfound interest in food culture that has never left me. Both the West Indies and Louisiana were under Spanish rule, followed by French; both were influenced by the natives of the islands, who were labeled Indians, and then the Africans from slave trade; and both adopted the word "Creole" for children of the colonies.
Within a week of returning home with this new knowledge, I created several recipes with heavy influences form the West Indies.
My friend Jessica Harris, a wonderful author who teaches in Brooklyn but spends much of her time in New Orleans, is much more authoritative on the food culture of the West Indies and has several books worth reading. I have learned so much from her.
Along with my keen interest in everything tropical and exotic about Guadalupe and Martinique, I was totally enchanted with the number of women chefs there. Every meal was better than the last, and I was especially taken with the fritters they made--the most popular called Accras, a local fritter made with salted cod. I did come across a few fritters there with various types of crab that were very good.
Their fritters were not at all like the croquettes of the South that I had experienced growing up. The fritters were so light that I began asking the local female chefs what was their secret? It was quite simple--in the South we use one cup of the good ingredients to one cup of flour and we don't necessarily separate our eggs. In the islands they used four cups of good ingredients to one cup of flour. With so many French techniques in their kitchens I should have known they would separate the eggs and whip the egg whites and fold them in.
Within a week of returning home with this new knowledge, I created several recipes with heavy influences form the West Indies. I did not make the salted cod fritter I had there but immediately played with ingredients I preferred over salted cod and made corn and shrimp fritters. This fritter was so popular with my guests that for years I had the recipe on the back of my business card, because everyone was constantly asking me for this particular recipe. Again, that was quite a few years ago, and I had not made my fritters for a long time until I started experimenting with some recipes for freshwater prawns. Like that little black cocktail dress, some things are timeless.
Being an advocate of sustainable seafood, I am always looking out for people who are doing it correctly. In my constant search for sustainable ingredients I came across the most delectable farm-raised prawns from Lauren Farms in the Delta. To put it simply, taste is why they make the grade. But if taste is not enough, this is why I think we will all be hearing more about Lauren Farms: free range; all natural; low cholesterol; low in fat, iodine, calories and sodium; grown in fresh, pollutant and chemical-free water; fed wholesome grains; fresh from pond to table; environmentally friendly; sustainable aquaculture; and no by-catch.
The other plus for me? I hate going to the grocery store... and they come UPS.